The Crumbs of Corinth

One early morning we hopped on the bus, rode nine stops, and then got on the Metro. We switched from the Metro after seven more stops and boarded the urban rail for the next hour. We caught a bus to modern Corinth and then changed busses once more to get to Ancient Corinth. We were on our pilgrimage to Corinth!

By the 6th century BC Corinth was one of the richest city-states in Ancient Greece. It was located on the Isthmus of Corinth, a thin stretch of land that connects the Peloponnesus to Attica, making this city strategic for both its trade and military access to the cities of Sparta in the west and Athens to the east. It was a powerful and influential city-state that usually allied itself with Sparta for protection. That ended when the Romans sacked Corinth in 146 BC. In 44 BC Julius Caesar decided to rebuild the city, and it once again became a major metropolitan trading center.

There is a museum at the entrance to the site of Ancient Corinth. Several statues, mosaics, friezes, and pottery pieces that were found on site are housed here. Most of them are Roman replicas of Ancient Greek pieces. Anything Greek from the site was pretty much destroyed back in 146 BC. There are pretty good write-ups for the pieces but not much to help connect the history of Corinth to the pieces.

The ruins of Corinth are just that: ruins. It was difficult to make out what was what and the map signposts that were situated around the site were not helpful. The only recognizable structure is the Temple of Apollo, built in the 5th century BC. The rest of the site was a mixture of rubble and foundations. There was an Agora with a forum for important government meetings and proclamations. It was here that Phillip II (Alexander the Great’s dad) had the people swear allegiance to him when he conquered the peninsula in 337 BC. It is also the place where the Apostle Paul preached Christianity for the first time to the people of Corinth.

The Lower Peirene fountain was really interesting. It is a natural spring that has been in use since ancient times and is still used by the people of Ancient Corinth for their water supply. The myth behind the fountain recounts the weeping of Peirene when Artemis killed her son. The gods decided to put the tears to good use and made this fountain. Doesn’t sound all that compassionate, does it?

I wish we had a bit more time, and that the kids had a bit more energy to tackle the Acrocorinth. The Acrocorinth is a natural fortress that lies on the top of a mountain directly behind Ancient Corinth. It is a beautiful mountain that everyone from Ancient Greeks to Ottoman Turks had used as a fortress lookout. Unfortunately, too many forms of transportation, a lackluster archaeological site, and the prospect of our return trip, left us resting in the park before our journey back to Athens.

On our way to and from Corinth the Urban Rail passed over the Corinth canal. If you blink, you miss it. Sorry, I blinked and therefore have no pictures, but there is a good story behind it all the same. The isthmus is less than four miles wide. The tyrant of the city-state of Corinth, Periander, at the end of the 7th century BC, decided it was time to really boost Corinth’s trade potential by digging a canal across the isthmus thus connecting the Aegean and the Ionian Seas. It turns out that the isthmus is almost entirely made up of rock, and he quickly changed plans. Instead he built a paved road for ships to be drug along to have access to both seas without having to sail all the way around the Peloponnesus. For the next 2600 years different rulers tried their hands at digging the canal. Roman emperor Nero took out a gold pickaxe and struck the first blow on his attempt. He then put 6,000 Jewish slaves to work on the project. A Gaulish invasion distracted him from the task, and it wasn’t until 1893 that a French engineering company completed the task. The steep sides of the canal are about 300 feet above the water at their deepest points, and it is about 75 wide. Almost solid rock the entire way. That would have been a lot of digging.

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