The Corinth Canal, belongs to the Great Age of Civil Engineering of the late nineteenth century; although smaller in magnitude than its bigger cousins, the Panama and the Suez, it is no less of a miracle of engineering. And as the commemorative stone at today’s bridge entrance points out, the design brains behind the enterprise were two Hungarians: Istvàn Türr (1825-1908) and Bèla Gerster (1850-1923) who succeeded where so many others failed.
Even as early as 602 BC Periander dreamt of a canal joining the Aegean and the Corinthian Gulf – and from there, the Ionian and Adriatic seas. Instead he created the diolkos, a paved, grooved track where wheeled vehicles carried ships between the two points of the narrow isthmus. This method of transport stopped in the first century AD when Nero started a project to dig a canal, after both Julius Caesar and Caligula commissioned studies and baulked at the cost. Sadly Nero was a complete and utter bastard and was murdered before the canal was even started.
Seventeen centuries passed before a newly independent Greece started thinking seriously about the project again. After the successful opening of the Suez canal in 1869, however, there was no more doubt about its feasibility. A new study were commissioned which, remarkably, opted for Nero’s old route as the soundest option.
The consortium under the Hungarians started digging in 1890 and in 1892 Nero’s and Periander’s dream was finally realized as a straight line 6,346 m long cut through the Isthmus of Corinth. Its greatest effect was felt in Piraeus which became the largest passenger port in Europe and one of the busiest container ports in the world.
The place is still fraught with frisson: in 1923 a large rock avalanche stopped traffic for two years and in 1944 the retreating Germans artificially blocked the canal which only reopened in 1949.
Today, one last thrill awaits: the middle of the bridge is also the location of a bungee jump – by appointment only.