April 22, 2022. 67°F/20°C
It was Orthodox Good Friday today, the beginning of a 3 day weekend in Greece, as well as the start of a 2 week Easter Break for schools, so the roads heading out of Athens were jammed. It reminded us of highways heading out of the GTA on the Mat long weekend, when everyone heads en masse to cottage country. What should have been just over an hour’s drive to Corinth took a full two. Luckily, on the way back home we veritably flew down the empty roads heading back into Athens.
Because almost no Viking excursion offers just one place to discover, we stopped at the Isthmus Canal. So what, a canal, but WHAT a canal ! The Greeks, Romans, Venetians, and Ottomans all wanted a route to cross the isthmus connecting mainland Greece and the Peloponnesian peninsula in order to get from the Ionian Sea to the Aegean, and vice versa, without having to either sail around in what were often treacherous waters or portage ships across. If you think the latter sounds ridiculous… the Roman emperor Tiberius used a system of rollers to do just that. A ship would be completely emptied on arrival at the land. Its cargo, and the ship itself, would be lifted onto huge rollers, using enslaved laborers, moved to the other body of water, reloaded and relaunched. Nero, in 67 AD, ordered 6000 enslaved Jews to dig a canal, but his project was later abandoned.
In 1870, the same French company that designed the Suez Canal was hired to build a Corinth Canal. That company went bankrupt, but the Greeks completed the proje t in 1893.
The canal is 244m/800ft deep, 6.4 km/4 mi long and only 21.4 metres/70 ft wide at its base, with a water depth of just 8 m/26ft and no locks. Very few modern commercial ships are small enough to use the canal, but it is used by recreational boaters and is a bit of a tourist site. It was definitely more impressive than I expected.
After our photo stop, it was on to Corinth.
When some people think of Corinth, the person that comes to mind is the Apostle Paul and his many letters to the Corinthians. Paul did live in Corinth for about 18 months, speaking/teaching/preaching to the Corinthians while also plying his trade as a tent-maker. For me, though, Corinth immediately brings to mind the actor Ricardo Montalban in the 1970’s Chrysler Cordoba TV commercials where he waxed rhapsodic about the car’s luxurious interior with its “rich Corinthian leather”, rolling every “r” as he did so.
Approaching Corinth, we got a glimpse of the Acrocorinth, the walled fortress overlooking the site of the ancient city. It’s easy to see why it was considered a secure citadel, perched as it was one the highest mountain in the area.
The Ancient Corinth archeological site is only about 5km/3mi from modern Corinth. It continues to awe us that people live with such ancient history literally in their back yards.
The site is ruins, with just a few identifiable structures uncovered to date. There is a myth to go with every piece of history that gets uncovered here; the Greeks and then the Romans lived here, so both cultures’ myths apply.
The largest building on the site is the Apollo Temple, which was built in Doric style on the ruins of earlier temple. Seven of the original 38 columns are in place. The columns are monolithic (one solid piece), as compared to the Parthenon where the huge columns are made up of stacked discs of marble.
The Upper Peirene fountain (below) is located within the walls of the acropolis. It doesn’t look like much of a fountain now, but originally had a fresh water spring, and piping to distribute the water.
We’ve now seen the trifecta of columns: Doric (like the Parthenon), Ionic (on the Erechtheion), and now the original Corinthian, below.
The ruins of the Odeion, a place specifically for music, not theatre or games.
A shrine (not a temple) to Apollo. The block structure would indicate Greek construction, but the brick arches are Roman. There is still lots to be discovered by the archeologists working here.
A row of many stores, featuring arched construction.
Some of the statuary uncovered at the site.
Remains of a 10th century AD Christian church, built on the site of Paul’s speeches. Some of the inscriptions here likely date to the 4th Crusade.
Lechaion Road, the main road into the ancient city of Corinth, was lined with shops on one side, and residences on the other. The actual road was made of marble, some of which still survives.
What passes for “litter” in Greece: 3 millennia old ruins strewn across the country. It’s honestly mind boggling trying to get our heads around the history located here.
We ended our day with dinner with friends, followed by an absolutely fantastic musical performance by our current entertainment team, and drinks in Torshavn to the music of the Spectrum Viking Band. It was a bittersweet ending, since we’ll be losing the band in Rome in 2 days when their contract ends. They’ve become like family to us, and while we’re sure their replacements will be great, they won’t be THEM.
As for the title of this episode, “kalí méra” is “good day” in Greek, and Korinthos is the Greek name of the city we’ve anglicized as Corinth.
My new word of the day: bema, the platform from which orators spoke in ancient Greece. Our guide talked about Paul speaking from the bema in the forum of Corinth. A fellow passenger succinctly compared it to a soapbox.