Greece // The Peloponnese //

The Corinth Canal

As you peer over from the bridge, the 6km Corinth Canal appears to be a very narrow strip of water, until a huge freighter from Pireás or cruise ship to the Ionian islands assumes suddenly toy-like dimensions as it passes nearly 80m below. Today, supertankers have tended to make it something of an anachronism but it is still used by large vessels and remains a memorable sight. At the northwestern end of the canal, by the old Kórinthos–Loutráki ferry dock, there are remains of the diolkos (summer Mon noon–7pm, Tues–Sun 8am–7pm; winter Tues–Sun 8.30am–3pm; free), a paved way along which a wheeled platform used to carry boats across the isthmus. In use from Roman times until the twelfth century, the boats were strapped onto the platform after being relieved temporarily of their cargo.

If you are travelling by car, the old national road passes directly over the canal, and it is fairly easy to park. Keep an eye out for a cluster of tourist shops and restaurants and you’ll know you’re there. Many buses also stop here.

Brief history

The idea for a canal providing a short cut and safe passage between the Aegean and Ionian seas harks back at least to Roman times, when Emperor Nero himself performed the initial excavations with his little silver shovel, later heavily supplemented by Jewish slave labour. It was only in the 1890s, however, that the technology finally became available for cutting right across the 6km isthmus. Opened in July 1893, the canal, along with its near-contemporary Suez, helped establish Pireás as a major Mediterranean port and shipping centre.