Until the 7th century BC. In order for a ship to sail from the Saronic Gulf to the Ionian Sea, it had to go around the whole Peloponnese and risk the difficult passage of the Malea cape.
However, in 602 BC. The tyrant of Corinth, Periander(one of seven sages in Greece), had the brilliant idea to open the ancient Corinth Canal or Diolkos, in order to easily and quickly transport goods to and from the colonies of Corinth in Greater Greece. The result was enormous, ships were gaining 190 miles to travel from East to West or the opposite route.
Corinth, a prosperous city
The ships of that time were quite small in size and Diolkos operated very efficiently for many centuries. At the same time, the role of slaves was sufficient to carry the goods. Every ship must pay tolls for the service which gave a lot of prosperity to the Corinthians, together with pottery exports and the colonies that were established in the West make in the 5th century Corinth the wealthiest city in Greece.
The Corinthians wanted this ambitious project as it is today, but, that remained just a dream, as the technical difficulties of opening the Corinth Canal were enormous. The technical consultants noticed that the level of the Corinthian Sea was different from the Saronic Gulf and a possible opening of the ancient Corinth Canal would cause flooding on the Saronic Gulf islands and the beaches of the Attica region.
The technical difficulties in combination with the oracle of Pythia which said that the Canal should neither be fortified nor dug, because Zeus built an island, where he deemed right, led Periander to build the famous Diolcos, to transport ships.
But what was Diolkos and how were the ships transported above the Isthmus?
Ancient Corinth Canal was essentially a special road five meters wide, paved with alabaster slabs and lined with wood, which had not been carved in a straight line to avoid steep slopes. The ships were carried out from the sea with cranes, putting them on wheels and transporting them empty from the port of Kechrees in the Saronic Gulf to the port of Lechaion in the Corinthian Gulf on special vehicles and dragged across the land by Diolkos. At the same time, slaves and packers carried the goods by land.
In the middle of the stone layer of Diolkos, there were two parallel deep grooves, in which the wheels of a large structure called a tug moved to transport the boat.
Was Ancient Corinth Canal(Diolkos) the first known orbit in the world?
Ancient Corinth Canal(Diolkos) was indeed a means of constant orbit with a specific path. The same function, however, was ensured by the carriage roads, the principles of which precede Diolkos. What makes Diolkos important is that it was created with the aim of the rapid and safe movement of ships, ie means intended for movement at sea, by land.
It was not built in a straight line but the terrain followed, in order to save resources and energy.
As the Belgian archaeologist Rapsaet points out, the excavated sections of Diolkos have technical features that make it an admirable work. “The precision of its course and the diligence in its construction, as well as its relatively long length for a permanent installation, suggest an emphasis on a ‘formal’ road network, with obviously important implications for the topography of the time”, he emphasizes.
St Paul disembarks at Corinth
The ancient project provided resources for Corinth and control of trade and sea routes to both the Ionian (West) and the Aegean (East). At the same time, Corinth had two important, active ports, Lechaio to the west and Kechrees to the east to support this intense commercial activity. At the port of Kechrees in 51 AD, St. Paul was disembarked after his speech in Athens. In the city, he lived for 1,5 years. In that period, he created the first Christian society.
Undoubtedly, the ancient Corinth Canal(Diolkos) played a leading role in the position of Corinth as a sea queen at the beginning of the archaic period, in its achievements and know-how in shipbuilding and navigation, but also in the antiquity of the city, famous in antiquity precisely because of the commercial. Characteristically, it is mentioned that the triremes, the most important warships of antiquity, are a Corinthian invention. “Thucydides specifically mentions the name of Corinthian Amenoklis as a manufacturer of triremes”.
In 1893, the Corinth Canal opened after 12 years of work. In our day’s ships are passing but, it needs to become wider for modern ships. You can see the Corinth Canal as well as Diolkos with our Corinth tour from Athens.