Something that is considered one of the great engineering accomplishments of Greece is the Corinth Canal.
The construction of the canal not only changed the shipping world, but it also changed the geography of Greece as it technically turned the Peloponnese into an island, although it is widely still referred to as a peninsula.
The canal was constructed from 1880 to 1893, however, it is something that shipowners and captains had dreamed about for some 2000 years before it became a reality.
In fact, the first person to propose constructing the canal was the ruler Periander in the 7th century BC, but it never came to fruition.
Then, during the first century AD, the philosopher Apollonius of Tyana made a gruesome prediction that came to be a reality. He said that the canal would not be constructed for the simple reason that any individual who attempted to plan out the digging of the canal across the Corinthian isthmus would fall ill.
This prophecy was quite prophetic, and three famous Roman emperors met their fate, dying prematurely while planning to build the canal.
Julius Caesar was the first of the three to set out to plan to build a canal, however, before he even got started, he met his death when he was assassinated.
Then, Emperor Caligula hired a group of Egyptian experts to plan the canal, and again, met his death before the plans got off the ground. The third Roman emperor to attempt to build it was Nero, who, although he lived to see the planning stage completed, while he attempted to construct it, he died.
Herodes Atticus, a Roman senator, made an unsuccessful go at re-starting the canal project during the second century AD.
It seemed as though the dream of joining the two seas would never come true.
Then, in 1830 after Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire, Greek politicians re-explored the idea of constructing the canal. This is when Greek statesman Ioannis Kapodistrias hired a French engineer to put together a realistic project — which ended up with an estimated steep cost of 40 million gold francs — leaving Greece to walk away from the project.
Soon after, inspired by the construction of the Suez Canal, Greece’s Prime Minister Thrasyvoulos Zaimis created a law in 1870 that authorized the engineering project of the Corinth Canal. A French company oversaw the project that resulted in the construction phase starting and soon after ending — again due to cost issues.
The dream of a canal across the Corinthian isthmus would finally become a reality when in 1881, the Société Internationale du Canal Maritime de Corinthe was commissioned to construct the canal and to operate it for the following 99 years. Construction began in April 1882, however, eight years later, Greece ran out of money. This time, a Greek company stepped in and the canal was finally completed in July of 1893.
The story of the Corinth Canal is one of perseverance of the Greek people.
Once constructed, the Corinth Canal played a crucial role in providing a passageway for boats to enter the Aegean Sea by joining the Corinth Gulf to the Saronic Gulf. Prior to the canal, ships who wanted to cross into the Adriatic Sea or anchor in Corinth that were at the time an important shipping hub would have to traverse the sea around the Peloponnese, adding on an extra 185 nautical miles to their trip.
Greek engineer Petros Protopapadakis created the canal that cuts through the earth with a length of nearly 6.5 km, while it is 25 meters wide.
Nowadays, many ships are too large to fit through the canal, however, it still is used by small cruise ships and tour boats — about 11,000 ships per year traverse the canal.