welcome to Corinth – GREECE
Today, as in antiquity, Corinth, along with Patras, is one of the two major gateways to the Peloponnese. Still, gates are for passage, not for lingering. Stop to see the ships slipping through the impressive Corinth Canal that cuts across the isthmus, then head straight for ancient Corinth, in the hamlet of Archaia Korinthos (Old Corinth), bypassing the modern city altogether. Mycenae and Nafplion have excellent hotels and restaurants-and both are about an hour’s drive from Corinth. In fact, the entire modern town of Corinth (pop. 24,000) has remarkably little to recommend it. The town was moved here in 1834, after an earthquake devastated the settlement at ancient Corinth, successive earthquakes in 1858, 1928, and 1981 destroyed virtually every interesting building in the new town. Corinth is now a thicket of undistinguished, flat-roofed buildings, supposedly built to withstand future quakes.
All this makes modern Corinth a far cry from ancient Corinth, famously splendid and lively. As one Greek proverb had it, “See Corinth and die,” suggesting that there was nothing to look forward to after visiting the monuments (and fleshpots) of the city that dominated trade in Greece for much of the 8th and 7th centuries tl.C. and that had a second golden age under the Romans in the 2nd century.
The new highway rushes you over the Corinth Canal very quickly, and unless you’re vigilant you can miss the turnoff to the Canal Tourist Area. Before the new road was completed in 1997, almost everyone stopped here for a coffee, a souvlaki, and a look at the canal that separates the Peloponnese from the mainland. Now, traffic hurtles past, and the cafes, restaurants, and shops here are hurting. There’s a small post office at the canal, along with a kiosk with postcards and English-language newspapers; most of the large souvlaki places have clean toilet facilities (but tough souvlaki). Warning: Be sure to lock your car door. This is a popular spot for thieves who prey on unwary tourists.
The French engineers who built the Corinth Canal between 1881 and 1893 used dynamite to blast through 8Cm (285 ft.) of sheer rock to make this 6.4km-long (4-mile), 27m (90-ft-wide) passageway. This revolutionized shipping in the Mediterranean: Ships that previously had made their way laboriously around Cape Matapan at the southern tip of the Peloponnese could dart through the canal. The journey from Brindisi, Italy, to Athens was shortened by more than 320km (200 miles). Although it took modern technology to build the canal, the Roman emperors Caligula and Nero had tried, and failed, to dig a canal with slave labor. Nero was obsessed with the project, going so far as to lift the first shovelful of earth with a dainty golden trowel. That done, he headed back to Rome and left the real work to the 6,000 Jewish slaves he had brought from Judea.