Corinth Canal

Corinth Canal

Overview
The Corinth Canal is a canal
Canal
Canals are man-made channels for water. There are two types of canal:#Waterways: navigable transportation canals used for carrying ships and boats shipping goods and conveying people, further subdivided into two kinds:...

 that connects the Gulf of Corinth
Gulf of Corinth
The Gulf of Corinth or the Corinthian Gulf is a deep inlet of the Ionian Sea separating the Peloponnese from western mainland Greece...

 with the Saronic Gulf
Saronic Gulf
The Saronic Gulf or Gulf of Aegina in Greece forms part of the Aegean Sea and defines the eastern side of the isthmus of Corinth. It is the eastern terminus of the Corinth Canal, which cuts across the isthmus.-Geography:The gulf includes the islands of; Aegina, Salamis, and Poros along with...

 in the Aegean Sea
Aegean Sea
The Aegean Sea[p] is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the southern Balkan and Anatolian peninsulas, i.e., between the mainlands of Greece and Turkey. In the north, it is connected to the Marmara Sea and Black Sea by the Dardanelles and Bosporus...

. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth
Isthmus of Corinth
The Isthmus of Corinth is the narrow land bridge which connects the Peloponnese peninsula with the rest of the mainland of Greece, near the city of Corinth. The word "isthmus" comes from the Ancient Greek word for "neck" and refers to the narrowness of the land. The Isthmus was known in the ancient...

 and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 mainland, thus effectively making the former an island
Island
An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, cays or keys. An island in a river or lake may be called an eyot , or holm...

. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level
Sea level
Mean sea level is a measure of the average height of the ocean's surface ; used as a standard in reckoning land elevation...

; no locks are employed. It is 6.4 kilometres (4 mi) in length and only 21.3 metres (69.9 ft) wide at its base, making it unpassable for most modern ships.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Corinth Canal'
Start a new discussion about 'Corinth Canal'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
The Corinth Canal is a canal
Canal
Canals are man-made channels for water. There are two types of canal:#Waterways: navigable transportation canals used for carrying ships and boats shipping goods and conveying people, further subdivided into two kinds:...

 that connects the Gulf of Corinth
Gulf of Corinth
The Gulf of Corinth or the Corinthian Gulf is a deep inlet of the Ionian Sea separating the Peloponnese from western mainland Greece...

 with the Saronic Gulf
Saronic Gulf
The Saronic Gulf or Gulf of Aegina in Greece forms part of the Aegean Sea and defines the eastern side of the isthmus of Corinth. It is the eastern terminus of the Corinth Canal, which cuts across the isthmus.-Geography:The gulf includes the islands of; Aegina, Salamis, and Poros along with...

 in the Aegean Sea
Aegean Sea
The Aegean Sea[p] is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the southern Balkan and Anatolian peninsulas, i.e., between the mainlands of Greece and Turkey. In the north, it is connected to the Marmara Sea and Black Sea by the Dardanelles and Bosporus...

. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth
Isthmus of Corinth
The Isthmus of Corinth is the narrow land bridge which connects the Peloponnese peninsula with the rest of the mainland of Greece, near the city of Corinth. The word "isthmus" comes from the Ancient Greek word for "neck" and refers to the narrowness of the land. The Isthmus was known in the ancient...

 and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 mainland, thus effectively making the former an island
Island
An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, cays or keys. An island in a river or lake may be called an eyot , or holm...

. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level
Sea level
Mean sea level is a measure of the average height of the ocean's surface ; used as a standard in reckoning land elevation...

; no locks are employed. It is 6.4 kilometres (4 mi) in length and only 21.3 metres (69.9 ft) wide at its base, making it unpassable 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 landslips from its sheer walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic.

Ancient attempts



Several rulers in antiquity dreamed of digging a cutting through the Isthmus. The first to propose such an undertaking was the tyrant
Tyrant
A tyrant was originally one who illegally seized and controlled a governmental power in a polis. Tyrants were a group of individuals who took over many Greek poleis during the uprising of the middle classes in the sixth and seventh centuries BC, ousting the aristocratic governments.Plato and...

 Periander
Periander
Periander was the second tyrant of Corinth, Greece in the 7th century BC. He was the son of the first tyrant, Cypselus. Periander succeeded his father in 627 BC. He died in 585 BC....

 in the 7th century BC
7th century BC
The 7th century BC started the first day of 700 BC and ended the last day of 601 BC.The Assyrian Empire continued to dominate the Near East during this century, exercising formidable power over neighbors like Babylon and Egypt. In the last two decades of the century, however, the empire began to...

. However, the project was abandoned and Periander instead constructed a simpler and less costly overland portage
Portage
Portage or portaging refers to the practice of carrying watercraft or cargo over land to avoid river obstacles, or between two bodies of water. A place where this carrying occurs is also called a portage; a person doing the carrying is called a porter.The English word portage is derived from the...

 road, named the Diolkos
Diolkos
The Diolkos was a paved trackway near Corinth in Ancient Greece which enabled boats to be moved overland across the Isthmus of Corinth. The shortcut allowed ancient vessels to avoid the dangerous circumnavigation of the Peloponnese peninsula...

or stone carriageway, along which ships could be towed from one side of the isthmus to the other. Periander's 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
Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

 of its dominant role as an entrepôt
Entrepôt
An entrepôt is a trading post where merchandise can be imported and exported without paying import duties, often at a profit. This profit is possible because of trade conditions, for example, the reluctance of ships to travel the entire length of a long trading route, and selling to the entrepôt...

 for goods. Remnants of the Diolkos still exist next to the modern canal.

The Diadoch Demetrius Poliorcetes
Demetrius I of Macedon
Demetrius I , called Poliorcetes , son of Antigonus I Monophthalmus and Stratonice, was a king of Macedon...

 (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
Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana was a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. Little is certainly known about him...

 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
Suetonius
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius , was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order in the early Imperial era....

 tells us that the Roman dictator
Roman dictator
In the Roman Republic, the dictator , was an extraordinary magistrate with the absolute authority to perform tasks beyond the authority of the ordinary magistrate . The office of dictator was a legal innovation originally named Magister Populi , i.e...

 Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 considered digging a canal through the isthmus but was assassinated before he could commence the project. Caligula
Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

, his successor as the third Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

, commissioned a study in 40 AD from Egyptian experts who claimed incorrectly that the Corinthian Gulf was higher than the Saronic. As a result, they concluded, if a canal was dug the island of Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

 would be inundated. Caligula's interest in the idea got no further as he too was assassinated.

The emperor Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

 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 67 AD, but the project was abandoned when he died shortly afterwards. The Roman workforce, consisting of 6000 Jewish prisoners of war
First Jewish-Roman War
The First Jewish–Roman War , sometimes called The Great Revolt , was the first of three major rebellions by the Jews of Judaea Province , against the Roman Empire...

, started digging 40 metre 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
Stadion (unit of length)
The stadion, Latinized as stadium and anglicized as stade, is an ancient Greek unit of length. According to Herodotus, one stade is equal to 600 feet. However, there were several different lengths of “feet”, depending on the country of origin....

 (approximately 700 metres (2,296.6 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
Hercules
Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

 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
Herodes Atticus
Lucius Vibullius Hipparchus Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes, otherwise known as Herodes Atticus was a very distinguished, rich Greek aristocrat who served as a Roman Senator and a Sophist. He is notable as a proponent in the Second Sophistic by Philostratus.-Ancestry and Family:Herodes Atticus...

 is also known to have considered digging a canal in the 2nd century AD, but did not manage to get a project underway. The Venetians
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

 also considered it in 1687 but likewise did not initiate a project.

Construction of the modern canal


The idea of a Corinth Canal was revived after Greece gained formal independence from the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 in 1830. The Greek statesman Ioannis Kapodistrias
Ioannis Kapodistrias
Count Ioannis Antonios Kapodistrias |Academy of Athens]] Critical Observations about the 6th-Grade History Textbook"): "3.2.7. Σελ. 40: Δεν αναφέρεται ότι ο Καποδίστριας ήταν Κερκυραίος ευγενής." "...δύο ιστορικούς της Aκαδημίας κ.κ...

 asked a French engineer to assess the feasibility of the project but had to abandon it when it was costed at some 40 million gold francs – far too expensive for the newly independent country. Fresh impetus was given by opening of the Suez Canal
Suez Canal
The Suez Canal , also known by the nickname "The Highway to India", is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Opened in November 1869 after 10 years of construction work, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigation...

 in 1869 and the following year, the government of Prime Minister Thrasyvoulos Zaimis passed a law authorising the construction of a Corinth Canal. French entrepreneurs were put in charge but failed to carry out the project. A fresh concession was granted to the Société Internationale du Canal Maritime de Corinthe in 1881, which was commissioned to construct the canal and operate it for the next 99 years. Construction was formally inaugurated on 23 April 1882 in the presence of King George I of Greece
George I of Greece
George I was King of Greece from 1863 to 1913. Originally a Danish prince, George was only 17 years old when he was elected king by the Greek National Assembly, which had deposed the former king Otto. His nomination was both suggested and supported by the Great Powers...

.

The company's initial capital was some 30,000,000 francs, but after eight years of work it ran out of money and a bid to issue 60,000 bonds of 500 francs each flopped when less than half of the bonds were sold. The company's head, the Hungarian István Türr
István Türr
István Türr , was a Hungarian soldier, revolutionary, canal architect and engineer, remembered in Italy for his role in that country's unification and his association with Garibaldi...

, went bankrupt, as did the company itself and a bank that had agreed to raise additional funds for the project. Construction resumed in 1890 when the project was transferred to a Greek company, and was finally completed on 25 July 1893 after eleven years' work.

However, even after completion the canal experienced financial and operational difficulties. The narrowness of the canal makes navigation difficult; its high rock walls channel high winds down its length, and the different times of the tides in the two gulfs cause strong tidal currents in the channel. For these reasons, many ship operators did not bother to use the canal and traffic was far below what had been predicted. An annual traffic of just under 4 million net tons had been anticipated but by 1906 traffic had reached only half a million net tons annually. By 1913 the total had risen to some 1.5 million net tons, but the disruption caused by the First World War produced a major decline in traffic.

Another persistent problem was due to the heavily faulted nature of the sedimentary rock, in an active seismic zone, through which the canal is cut. The canal's high limestone walls have been persistently unstable from the start. Although it was formally opened in July 1893 it was not opened to navigation until the following November, due to landslips. It was soon found that the wake from ships passing through the canal undermined the walls, causing further landslips. This required further expense in building retaining walls along the water's edge for somewhat more than half of the length of the canal, utilising some 165,000 cubic metres of masonry. Between 1893 and 1940, it was closed for a total of four years for maintenance and to stabilise the walls. In 1923 alone, 41,000 cubic metres of material fell into the canal, which took two years to clear out.

Serious damage was caused to the canal during the Second World War, when it was the scene of fighting due to its strategic importance. On 26 April 1941, during the Battle of Greece
Battle of Greece
The Battle of Greece is the common name for the invasion and conquest of Greece by Nazi Germany in April 1941. Greece was supported by British Commonwealth forces, while the Germans' Axis allies Italy and Bulgaria played secondary roles...

 between defending British troops and the invading forces of Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

, German parachutists and glider troops attempted to capture the main bridge over the canal. The bridge was defended by the British and had been wired for demolition. The Germans were able to surprise the defenders with a glider-borne assault in the early morning of 26 April and captured the bridge, but the British were able to set off the charges and destroy the structure.

Three years later, as German forces retreated from Greece, the canal was put out of action by German "scorched earth
Scorched earth
A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area...

" operations. German forces used explosives to set off landslips to block the canal, destroyed the bridges and dumped locomotives, bridge wreckage and other destroyed infrastructure into the canal to hinder repair work. The United States Army Corps of Engineers
United States Army Corps of Engineers
The United States Army Corps of Engineers is a federal agency and a major Army command made up of some 38,000 civilian and military personnel, making it the world's largest public engineering, design and construction management agency...

 began work to clear the canal in November 1947 and managed to reopen it for shallow-draft traffic by 7 July 1948, and for all traffic by that September.

Layout



The canal consists of a single channel 8 metres (26.2 ft) deep, excavated at sea level (thus requiring no locks), measuring 6346 metres (20,820.2 ft) long by 24.6 metres (80.7 ft) wide at the top and 21.3 metres (69.9 ft) wide at the bottom. The rock walls, which rise 90 metres (295.3 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 (147.6 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 kilometres (435 mi) journey around the Peloponnese, it is too narrow for modern ocean freighters
Cargo ship
A cargo ship or freighter is any sort of ship or vessel that carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another. Thousands of cargo carriers ply the world's seas and oceans each year; they handle the bulk of international trade...

 as it can only accommodate ships of a width of up to 16.5 metres (54.1 ft) and a depth 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 waterway.

Further reading


Ancient attempts at a canal
  • Gerster, Bela, “L'Isthme de Corinthe: tentatives de percement dans l'antiquité”, Bulletin de correspondance hellénique (1884), Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 225–232
  • Werner, Walter: "The largest ship trackway in ancient times: the Diolkos of the Isthmus of Corinth, Greece, and early attempts to build a canal", The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1997), pp. 98–119

External links


  • Periandros S.A. — Current operator of the Corinth Canal. Website contains photographs, fees and conditions for canal transit, and history of the site.
  • Corinth Canal at NASA Earth Observatory
    NASA Earth Observatory
    NASA Earth Observatory is an online publishing outlet for NASA which was created in 1999. It is the principal source of satellite imagery and other scientific information pertaining to the climate and the environment which are being provided by NASA for consumption by the general public...

  • Corinth Canal on Google Maps
  • Corinthcanal.com