“In the first time when I saw a photo of a giant cruise ship in the Corinth Canal, I thought it was a photoshopped or AI-generated photograph. The Cruise liner looked so big that it seemed impossible that it could fit through the narrow canal. But after digging deep, I learned that the photo was real and that cruise ships do indeed pass through the canal on a daily basis. I was so fascinated by this that I decided to write a story about it. In this article, I will explore the history of the Corinth Canal, the challenges of passing through it with a large ship, and the impact that cruise ships have on the local economy of Greece.
The History of Corinth Canal
The idea of digging a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow strip of land that connects the Peloponnese peninsula with mainland Greece, dates back to ancient times. The isthmus was a strategic and commercial bottleneck, as ships had to sail around the Peloponnese to reach the Aegean Sea from the Ionian Sea, or vice versa. This added time, distance, and danger to their voyages.
The first ever person to propose a canal here was the tyrant Periander of Corinth in the 7th century BC, but he abandoned the project due to its high cost and difficulty. Instead, he built a paved road called the Diolkos, along which ships could be dragged on wheeled platforms from one gulf to another. The Diolkos was used for centuries until it fell into disuse in the 9th century AD.
many other rulers also attempted or planned to dig a canal, but none succeeded. These include the Macedonian king Demetrius Poliorcetes in the 4th century BC, famous the Roman emperors Julius Caesar, Caligula, and Nero in the 1st century AD, and the Byzantine emperor Heraclius in the 7th century AD. Some of them were deterred by technical or geological challenges, others by superstition or political turmoil.
The modern-day canal project was initiated by the Greek statesman Ioannis Kapodistrias in 1830 after Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire. However, it was not until 1881 that the construction was initiated, under the direction of a French company. The work was plagued by financial and technical problems, as well as landslides and floods. The company went bankrupt in 1889, and the project was taken over by a Greek company, which finally came to a successful halt in 1893.
The completed canal was inaugurated on July 25th, 1893, with great fanfare and celebration. It was hailed as a symbol of Greek national pride and progress. However, it soon proved to be disappointing in terms of its economic and practical value. The canal was too narrow (only 25 meters wide at the surface) and too shallow (only 8 meters deep) for many modern cargo and cruising ships. It also suffered from frequent closures due to maintenance and repairs. As a result, it never attracted the initially expected volume of traffic or revenue. However, it gains its own economy in a way which is different to the original ROI blueprint.
The Location and the Capabilities of Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal is a sea-level canal (unlike the Panama Canal) that connects the Gulf of Corinth in the west with the Saronic Gulf in the east. It cuts through the Isthmus of Corinth at its narrowest point, which is about 6 kilometres long. The canal has no locks or gates (like Panama Canal); it relies on the natural tidal flow of the two gulfs to maintain its water level.
The canal has an average width of 24.6 meters at the bottom and 25 meters at the surface. Its depth varies from 7.5 meters at low tide to 8 meters at high tide. Its walls are almost vertical and rise up to 90 meters above sea level. The canal can accommodate ships up to 10,000 tons and up to 22.5 meters wide.
The canal is located in southern Greece, about 80 kilometres west of Greek Capital Athens. It lies between two major cities: Corinth on the west side and Isthmia on the east side. Both cities have ports that serve as terminals for ships that use the canal. The canal also crosses two spectacular bridges: one road bridge and one railway bridge.
Why Corinth Canal is important? and How Corinth Canal contribute to the Greek Economy
The Corinth Canal was originally intended to facilitate sea trade and navigation between the Ionian Sea and the Aegean Sea, as well as between Europe and Asia. By using the canal, ships could save up to 400 kilometres of sailing around the Peloponnese peninsula. Usually, canals like Corinth Canal can reduce travel time, fuel consumption, and risk of piracy or bad weather and still, it does.
However, as mentioned earlier, the canal is far from its original expectations due to its limitations and problems. Today, only about 15,000 ships pass through it annually, mostly small vessels such as yachts, cruise ships, ferries, and fishing boats. The canal is not suitable for large cargo ships, container ships or much wider passenger cruisers that dominate global trade.
Nevertheless, the canal still plays an important role in Greece’s Economy and its tourism industry. It is a major tourist attraction for visitors who want to see its spectacular scenery and learn about its fascinating history. Many tourists take boat tours or cruises along the canal or cross it by car or train. Some adventurous travellers even bungee jump from one of its bridges which is not an ideal way to bet your life.
The canal is also featured as an engineering and historical monument for Greece. It represents a link between the ancient and modern history of Greece where urban civilization was shaped. Also, it is a regional symbol of tourism as Greek Tourism Industry is too big to market itself as a whole country. It is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of the Greek people who dreamed of and realized this monumental project.
The Corinth Canal is a remarkable engineering masterpiece that has a long and storied history of attempting to make it happen. Even though it is far from the expected result, it is still a beautiful and repurposed project to behold. If you ever visit Greece, you should not miss the opportunity to experience the canal and its surroundings among the countless tourist attractions in this extraordinary nation.