Piraeus is the port city for Athens, and we had visited here on our first Mediterranean cruise in 2006. We decided that we’d try something different for this trip, so instead of touring Athens again we opted to take a tour of Corinth and the Corinth Canal. The tour bus drove past Athens as we headed towards Corinth, so we could see some of the famous monuments as we drove by. Our tour guide told us that the new Acropolis Museum had opened just a couple of days before - on June 21, and was well worth the visit. We wouldn't have time to visit the new museum on this trip...so maybe another trip to Athens is in order? Could be!
Our trip to the Corinth area took about one hour and was a pleasant drive through some of the Greek countryside with our knowledgeable guide giving us a rundown on the historical battles that took place in the land we now drove past. The first stop was to look at the Corinth Canal from above. This 6.3 km long canal cuts through the Isthmus of Corinth to connect the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. The construction of the canal separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from mainland Greece. The canal as seen today was built between 1881 and 1893 and is considered an impressive technical achievement for that era. It had been something dreamed of for many years before that. The first known attempt to cut through the Isthmus was in 602 BC under the rule of tyrant Periander. The difficult canal project was abandoned in favour of a much easier overland portage road option. The next attempt to build the canal was undertaken by the Greek Diadoch Demetrius in 307 BC. That attempt failed because Demetrius was convinced by Egyptian engineers that the two sea levels were different and the canal would result in flooding on the Aegean side. The engineers had it wrong - the levels were the same, but it stopped the project none the less. The Romans under Julius Caesar and Caligula flirted with the idea of the canal once again, but it was Nero in 66 AD who got things moving again with the manual labour of captured prisoners of war from the Aegean and 6000 Jewish slaves to dig a portion of the canal - 3.3 km long and 40 metres wide. Nero returned to Rome to suppress a mutiny and he ended up being arrested on the charge of treason and was executed in 68 AD. The canal died with him. There were a few more attempts to build the canal, all to no avail until the late 1800s.
The canal was eventually built between 1881 and 1893 following the impressive construction of the 164 km long Suez Canal in 1869, and they basically used the plan crafted by Nero. The site’s commemorative sign indicated that the canal was officially opened on August 6, 1893. What it didn’t say is that the canal was a project 2495 years in the making! Looking at the canal from one of the bridges gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs a bit, and it also gave us some practice in dodging Greek traffic. Even crossing at one of the pedestrian crossings was something to be done at your own risk! We found the drivers in here in Greece more aggressive and not as predictable as the drivers in Italy. While the Italians drove fast and aggressively, we felt pretty comfortable walking in and around the streets. We found that the same was not true for the Greeks. We saw a few tourists come dangerously close to being hit at high speed with their mistaken thought that the cars and trucks would stop for them at a pedestrian crossing. After looking at the canal and taking in the customary souvenir browsing we boarded back on the bus for the next destination of Ancient Corinth. We’d be back at the canal before the end of the tour - for a trip on a small boat to travel along the canal.
The site of Ancient Corinth has evidence of habitation as far back as 5000 BC, and was a major Greek city from the 8th century BC until 146 BC when it was destroyed by the Romans. Only one Greek temple was left intact by the Romans - the Temple of Apollo, built in 550 BC. Corinth was rebuilt in 44 BC as a Roman city under the reign of Julius Caesar and it flourished as a city under Roman rule. It is known that the Apostle Paul visited Corinth at least three times. The first time is recorded in Acts 18 - documenting the time that Paul established the church there. He stayed in the city about 18 months on that occasion - teaching those in the young church. His second visit followed his writing of 1 Corinthians (from Ephesus) where he addressed, first in writing and then in person, some of the problems within the church at Corinth. After writing 2 Corinthians, Paul returned a third time - recorded in Acts 20:3 as a three month visit. It was during this visit that he likely wrote the book of Romans.
Estimates put the population of Corinth as high as 800,000 people at the time of Paul and our guide described it as an extremely affluent city - eclipsing Ephesus in stature. Our guide also mentioned that the present day excavation of Corinth covers approximately 10% of the ancient city. The city would have been huge in its day. The Roman poet Horace is credited with coining the phrase "non licet omnibus adire Corinthum", which translates as "Not everyone is able to go to Corinth" - this, due to the high cost of living that existed in Corinth. It was known as an expensive, extravagant and wild city. Corinth had held this status of richest and most commercial city in the Greek period that pre-dates the Roman period. Also during that classical Greek era, the people of Corinth developed the Corinthian order - the third of the classical architectural styles. What is interesting is that Greeks themselves didn’t universally embrace this more complicated style intended to show an opulent lifestyle, but the Romans definitely incorporated this into their buildings and structures.
The evidence found in Corinth is that of the Roman era. Unfortunately, Linda wasn’t feeling up to touring around the ruins so she remained close to the museum and the shade while Gary walked with the tour group. The present day archaeological site consists of what would have been the centre of the city with its agora (or forum) and basilica. What is slightly confusing is that some of the excavations have unearthed remnants of the Greek city which do not follow the same lines as the Roman city built over it. Some of the more significant elements of the city, such as the Fountain of Peirene, were built originally by the Greeks and then rebuilt and expanded by the Romans. That fountain was the major natural source of water for Corinthians in whatever era and today is one of the more striking structures that remain. In the centre of the agora sits a structure known as the Bema - which is a platform for public addresses, similar to the Imperial Rostra we had seen in Rome. It is at this location that the confrontation of Acts 18:12-17 takes place. Depending on the Bible translation one uses, the term “court”, “judgement seat”, “tribunal” and so on all refer to to this location of the Bema. Another thing that we found interesting in Corinth is that a few of the original statues have been left in situ. Generally these would have all been moved to a museum and replaced by replicas. Once the formal part of the tour was finished, Gary went around the site to take some more photographs. Away from the main area of interest of the site, Gary found the hard to see remains of the Odeon and Theatre. These were both Greek structures reused and renovated by the Romans. Much work is required on both (particularly the Theatre) to show them as they once were. We met back up at near the museum and looked at some of the remains close to it in an area know as the west shops and beyond that the remains of the Temple of Octavia (which for some strange reason we didn’t take any photographs of it!?!). With that, our time at Ancient Corinth was up and we met up with the tour group at the bus to head back to the Corinth Canal.
Linda was feeling a bit better as the bus took us back to the Corinth Canal, but still not great. She was wondering whether she’d go on the small boat or not. When we arrived at the Saronic Gulf end of the canal she had figured that she felt well enough to take the ride. That was good news. We boarded the boat and went to the upper deck to find some seats. The boat had a bar and a small buffet (more like a snack) set up on the lower deck. This was the only opportunity to eat anything on this tour. Gary had some of the food, but Linda declined for obvious reasons. The boat circled a bit in the open water and we were told that the boat was waiting for a tanker to clear the canal. Once it was through our boat made its way to the opening of the canal and a yacht followed behind us. We really got a sense of the scale of the project to build this canal as the boat made its way though the 79 metre high walls on either side. It was a pleasant ride. When we reached the Gulf of Corinth, the sight was beautiful with the colour of the water changing dramatically further out in the gulf. Our boat circled in the opening of the Gulf of Corinth and then made the 6.3 km long trip along the canal once again to return us to our starting point. You can see some of our photos from the boat on the next page. With the boat tour finished it was now just a matter of making our way back to Celebrity Solstice.
We reached the ship around 4:00pm and Linda took the opportunity to rest and hopefully feel more normal. Gary went to the Oceanview Cafe for a bite to eat and then to read out on the open deck. The ship was due to leave port at 6:00pm but the port was very busy and the ship was delayed about a half hour or so. It was fascinating to watch all of the ships and ferries moving in and out of the port. It was like rush hour on the sea. When it was Celebrity Solstice’s turn, our ship backed out of the port - the drive system capable of propelling the ship equally well in either direction and the port nowhere near big enough to allow this ship to turn within it. Once clear of the port the ship made a slow 180° spin to make its way out of Piraeus. Even though we’d experienced this before, it was still amazing to us how manoeuvrable a ship as big as this one could be. By 7:00pm Linda was feeling better so we prepared for dinner and opted to make it a less formal meal in the Oceanview Cafe rather than going to the main dining room for dinner. It turned out to be a nice choice and it suited us very well particularly this night. The food, of course, was buffet style but there was a good selection of food and the servers for drinks and clearing dishes, etc were very attentive. Plenty of families with children clearly figured this was a better option for them over the Grand Epernay Restaurant. After dinner we stopped by the Photo Gallery to check out the most recent photos and then stopped by the Martini Bar for a drink. We made it back to our room earlier than usual this night, which was a good idea for Linda to get a bit more rest with the hope of getting back to normal. It was truly unfortunate that she was unable to fully enjoy the day’s touring. Ancient Corinth and the Corinth Canal had been fascinating and well worth the visit.
WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.