Friday, August 19, 2011

The modern Isthmus of Corinth and the ancient Diolkos

The Isthmus of Corinth

An Isthmus is defined as  a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas usually with waterforms on either side.The Isthmus of Corinth was an important crossroad of the ancient world. It was the land bridge that connected Peloponnese with mainland Greece. 

The ancient Greeks and later the Romans and Byzantines attempted numerous times to fortify this narrow strip.During the Persian wars there was a plan for the Greeks to build wooden walls along the Isthmus and wait for the Persians there.

Herodotus argued that a wall on Isthmus was useless if the defender couldn't control the seas. Likely he took the historic example of the Dorian invasion in the Mycenean Peloponnese in which the Dorians didn't invade through Isthmus but instead they used sea transports.

Remains of the examilion wall

In the 5th century, the Eastern Roman empire built a wall in Isthmus to stop the invading Visigoths. The wall had two gates and it was considered the biggest building in Greece at its time. It was called examilion(six miles) maybe because its length was 6 miles. The material used for the buiding were marbles from the nearby temples of Poseidon and Hera in Isthmus and Perahora.

During emperor Justinian more towers were added to increase the effectiveness of the defences.
Herodotus seemed to be right about his opinions on the wall cause during the Slavic invasions the Slavs just went around the wall through the sea and invaded Peloponnese.

Later many other Byzantine emperors tried to repair the walls but all these attempts were futile when the gunpowder technology was mastered by the Ottoman armies.

The canal of Corinth

The concept of cutting a canal through the Corinth Isthmus to link the Ionian and Aegean seas was first proposed by Periander tyrrant of Corinth at the end of the 7th century BC. The magnitude of the task defeated him so he opted instead to build a diolkos across which sailors dragged ships from the Ionian port of ancient Corinth called Lechaion to Cenchreai the Aegean port( and vice versa.

Later many great persons like Alexander the Great and Caligula had the "canal idea" but it was during Nero in 67 AD that diggings started for the opening of the canal.  6000 Jewish prisoners were working on this project  but unfortunately for Nero it was halted because of Gaulish invasions.

The canal was ultimately completed some decades after the creation of the modern Greek state in the 19th century by a French company(1883-1893). The architects were Istvan Turr and Bela Gerster, both of them Hungarians. This made Peloponnese officially an island(the ancient Greeks mistakenly thought it was already an island Peloponnesos  Pelops= an ancient Greek King  and  nesos=island

The canal is 6 kilometers long and 23 meters wide(79 feet).The land sides rise 90 meters above the water.

 An estimated 11,000 ships per year travel through the waterway, most of them full of tourists. When the canal was originally built it was meant to allow all boats to pass through, but unfortunately due to its narrow width of 24 metres it is too narrow for modern day ships that are built too large to pass through. One main bridge crosses overhead while at both ends seashore roads cross using submersible bridges that are lowered to allow ships to pass through. Sometimes, when the bridge rises, fish are caught and come up with the bridge as kids run to collect them.

The first strike in the modern Greek history

The workers in the Corinth canal opening were the first ones to organise a strike.

90 years after the creation of a modern Greek state in 1888 the workers in the Isthmus of Corinth declared a strike demanding a fair way of calculating their working time.This resulted a new agreement between the workers and the contractors about estimating the salaries and working times in order to avoid exploitation and fraud.

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