The Corinthian Canal: A Narrow Man-Made Shipping Canal

The Corinth Canal is a very important navigational route in the Greek archipelago connecting the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf. The canal’s position, thereby also separates the peninsula of Peloponnese – conveniently converting it into an island – with the Greek mainland. And while the Greece canal is quite narrow, it is a vital lifeline for ships wanting to enter the Aegean Sea.



In terms of its construction, the Corinthian Canal is not an event that was planned to be built a few years ago, but in fact was a dream envisioned a couple of thousands of years ago. But superstition and orthodoxy coupled with lack of infrastructural facilities led to the procrastination of the construction of the canal.

Before the construction of the canal, ships wanting to pass through this oceanic area had to endure a circuitous and a roundabout route in order to enter even the Mediterranean and the Black Seas in addition to the Aegean Sea.



The construction of the Corinthian Canal was fraught with a lot of complications. To begin with, the route of the canal was composed of treacherous rocks along with being in a high-seismic zone. This made the route highly volatile and prone to unprecedented earthquakes. It needs to be noted that when the construction of the canal actually started in the late 1800s, a major portion of the rock formations had to be overhauled and removed before the engineers and architects could start with their work.

However, a timeline of the emperors who tried to convert the engineering dream into a reality needs to be mentioned. This timeline would help understand the happening of events in a proper chronological order:

Periander (602 BC): The otherwise autocratic Periander was the very first ruler to have visualised a canal to bridge the navigational distance encountered by ships. However, because of lack of viability, Periander had a limestone platform known as Diolkos built where the ships would be loaded till they could pass from one Gulf to another. The ships were rolled onto the Olkos, a wheeled contraption, which made the loading and the unloading of the ships easier.

Ships whose dimensions made it impractical for them to be loaded onto the Diolkos and the Olkos, their cargo used to be removed at one shore and then re-loaded onto a waiting ship at the other shore. The procedure was complicated, though the only feasible one at that time.

Demetrios Poliorkitis, Julius Caesar, Caligula and Hadrian are the other Greek rulers who tried to elaborate on the idea of a canal but were unable to do so. In case of Julius Caesar, his premature death also played a role in the actualisation of the canal construction.

Nero (67 AD): The emperor Nero had some success regarding the construction of the Canal of Corinth. He was the first ruler – and the first person overall – to dig the land indicating the beginning of the canal construction. However, the lack of financial infrastructure and Nero’s assassination led to the abrupt stopping of the canal construction.

In the year 1830, the Greek governor Capodistrias led the resurgence of the idea of the Corinth Canal. But again due to financial problems, the construction came to be postponed.  The proposed expenditure for the construction, billed to be 30 million francs, was finally invested by an Austrian private entrepreneurship owned by Etiene Tyrr – the then General of Austria in the year 1882. This led to the actual start of the Corinthian Canal construction. The need for further capital investment when felt was brought in by a Greek entrepreneur in the form of five million francs in the year 1890.

The Greece canal was finally built and brought into operation on the 28th October 1893, after overcoming and surpassing many roadblocks.


Canal Specifications

  • The Corinth Canal spans a distance of 6.3 kilometres
  • The depth of the canal is 26 feet
  • The canal width alters between a minimum of 69 feet and a maximum of 82 feet at the bottom and at the surface respectively.
  • Traversing through the canal saves a ship a journey of 185 nautical miles.
  • The Canal of Corinth is surrounded by walls standing at a height of 170 feet.



The Greece Corinth is not without its risks. The canal experienced earthquakes in the year 1923, which caused around 40,000 cubic metres of the wall surrounding the canal to cave-in into the water. The accumulated debris took around two years to be fully cleared up after which the navigation could resume again. Even now, high risk alerts are posted regularly to the ships using this marine navigational route.

The narrowness of the canal does not permit large vessels to pass through it. This again poses a huge problem to the viability of the Canal of Corinth in terms of the size of the contemporary vessels.

However in spite of such debilitating factors, it cannot be denied that the Corinthian Canal is an engineering marvel, deserving hearty appreciation.


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