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Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal is a canal that
connects the Gulf of Corinth with the...

The Corinth Canal is a canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former peninsula an island. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level; no locks are employed. It is 6.4 kilometres (4.0 mi) in length and only 21.4 metres (70 ft) wide at its base, making it impassable for most modern ships. It now has little economic importance.

The canal was mooted in classical times and an abortive effort was made to build it in the 1st century AD. Construction finally got underway in 1881 but was hampered by geological and financial problems that bankrupted the original builders. It was completed in 1893, but due to the canal's narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslides from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic.

 

History

Several rulers in antiquity dreamed of digging a cutting through the Isthmus. The first to propose such an undertaking was the tyrant Periander in the 7th century BC. The project was abandoned and Periander instead constructed a simpler and less costly overland portage road, named the Diolkos or stone carriageway, along which ships could be towed from one side of the isthmus to the other.Periander change of heart is attributed variously to the great expense of the project, a lack of labour or a fear that a canal would have robbed Corinth of its dominant role as an entrepôt for goods.Remnants of the Diolkos still exist next to the modern canal.

The Diadochi Demetrius Poliorcetes (336–283 BC) planned to construct a canal as a means to improve his communication lines, but dropped the plan after his surveyors, miscalculating the levels of the adjacent seas, feared heavy floods.
The philosopher Apollonius of Tyana prophesied that ill would befall anyone who proposed to dig a Corinthian canal. Three Roman rulers considered the idea but all suffered violent deaths; the historian Suetonius tells us that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar considered digging a canal through the isthmus but was assassinated before he could commence the project. Caligula, his successor as the third Roman Emperor, commissioned a study in AD 40 from Egyptian experts who claimed incorrectly that the Corinthian Gulf was higher than the Saronic Gulf. As a result, they concluded, if a canal was dug the island of Aegina would be inundated. Caligula's interest in the idea got no further as he too was assassinated.

The emperor Nero was the first to actually attempt to construct the canal, personally breaking the ground with a pickaxe and removing the first basket-load of soil in AD 67, but the project was abandoned when he died shortly afterwards. The Roman workforce, consisting of 6,000 Jewish prisoners of war, started digging 40–50 m (130–160 ft) wide trenches from both sides, while a third group at the ridge drilled deep shafts for probing the quality of the rock (which were reused in 1881 for the same purpose). According to Suetonius, the canal was dug to a distance of four stades (approximately 700 metres (2,300 ft), in other words about a tenth of the total distance across the isthmus). A memorial of the attempt in the form of a relief of Hercules was left by Nero's workers and can still be seen in the canal cutting today.Other than this, as the modern canal follows the same course as Nero's, no remains have survived.
The philosopher and Roman senator Herodes Atticus is also known to have considered digging a canal in the 2nd century AD, but did not manage to get a project under way.The Venetians also considered it in 1687 after their conquest of the Peloponnese but likewise did not initiate a project.

 

Layout

The location of the Isthmus of Corinth; the canal is shown in light blue.

The canal consists of a single channel 8 metres (26 ft) deep, excavated at sea level (thus requiring no locks), measuring 6,346 metres (20,820 ft) long by 24.6 metres (81 ft) wide at the top and 21.3 metres (70 ft) wide at the bottom. The rock walls, which rise 90 metres (300 ft) above sea level, are at a near-vertical 80° angle.The canal is crossed by a railway line, a road and a motorway at a height of about 45 metres (148 ft). In 1988 submersible bridges were installed at sea level at each end of the canal, by the eastern harbour of Isthmia and the western harbour of Poseidonia.

Although the canal saves the 700-kilometre (430 mi) journey around the Peloponnese, it is too narrow for modern ocean freighters, as it can only accommodate ships of a width of up to 16.5 metres (54 ft) and a draft of 7.3 metres (24 ft). Ships can only pass through the canal one at a time on a one-way system. Larger ships have to be towed by tugs. The canal is nowadays mostly used by tourist ships; 11,000 ships per year travel through the waterwa.

 

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