12 May 2016
Corinth Canal, Greece: The Shortcut to Athens

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Pelopennesia is the southernmost part of the mainland of Greece.

Although, some might quibble, geographically speaking. You might instead want to call Pelopennesia the largest southernmost island of Greece, because for more than a century it has been cut off from the mainland of Europe by the Corinth Canal.

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Ancient Corinth near the canal

The short and narrow canal connects the Gulf of Corinth to the west with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea.

It’s an obvious place for a canal, since it allows the possibility of saving 185 nautical miles (213 land miles or 343 kilometers) of sailing between the Aegean and Adriatic.

On our crossing today, we avoided the need to sail down and around the bottom of Peloppenesia, saving almost a full day for a sailing vessel or about half a day for a ship like ours.

And even better, it was a spectacular trip, one of the most challenging passages for a ship. Almost anywhere else in the world, the beautiful Silver Cloud is considered a small luxury vessel; here in the Corinth Canal, we are extra-large, right at the limits of width and height.





The idea of having a canal here was so obvious that it was pursued way before modern times.

The first serious consideration of a canal cutting across the Isthmus of Corinth was in 602 BC.

Periander, the Tyrant of Corinth and one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity proposed it as a public works project.

But he was not sage enough to figure out how to dig the ditch.

So instead, his engineers produced another great project, the diolkós, a stone road on which ships were transferred on wheeled platforms from one sea to the other.

Stretches of that dry canal can still be seen.

Skip forward three centuries, and in 307 B.C., Dimitrios Poliorkitis, king of Macedon actually began excavation.

But the digging was suspended after Egyptian engineers incorrectly predicted that differing sea levels between the Corinthian and the Saronic Gulfs would inundate the Aegean Sea.

Oh, and also: the experts declared that Poseidon, god of the sea, was opposed to the joining of the Aegean and the Adriatic.

Next up was Julius Caesar in 44BC and Caligula in 37BC; just thinking about it, but still concerned about Poseidon.

In 66 A.D., the Emperor Nero sent war prisoners from the Aegean islands and six thousand Jewish slaves to work on the canal. Nero himself started the work, digging with a golden hoe, while music played.

Nero’s slaves dug a ditch three kilometers or two miles in length and 40 meters or 131 feet wide before Nero had to rush back to Rome to quell the Galva mutiny.

The 19th century, the Industrial Age, was the also the Age of the Canal.

The success in 1869 of Ferdinand de Lesseps’ Suez Canal awakened politicians and engineers and construction companies around the world. The Suez helped bring about the Panama Canal, the Cape Cod Canal, the Corinth Canal and other efforts.

The modern pathway follows—almost to the inch—Nero’s plans.

Sixteen million cubic yards (twelve million cubic meters) of earth had to be removed.

The Corinth Canal was completed and opened on July 25, 1893.

The canal was never a huge financial success.

It was (and is) too narrow for big ships, too difficult in bad weather or tides, and too prone to landslides.

Corinth Canal

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The Canal cuts the Isthmus of Corinth in a straight line about 6 kilometers, or about four miles.

Earthen or rock cliffs flank both sides, reaching a maximum height of 63 meters or 207 feet above water.

It is straight, which is good. But it is relatively shallow: dredged to 6.5 meters or 21.3 feet, in some places just a bit deeper.

Our ship has a draft of about 4.5 meters or about 15 feet.

Next problem: the canal is very narrow: 80.7 feet wide (24.6 meters) at sea level. And down below it is even a bit narrower, 70 feet or 21.3 meters wide. That’s less than two tour buses or coaches in width.

Silver Cloud is 70.6 feet wide.

Like many of us, our ship is widest around the middle and higher. So we have just enough to spare on each side of the ship and beneath our keel.

And memories of a tight squeeze.

Text and images copyright 2016 by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.


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12 May 2016
Itea, Greece:
A Visit to the Navel of the Earth

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Itea is on the mainland of Greece, at its southern flank on the Gulf of Corinth.

Athens is about 75 miles or 125 kilometers southeast, easily reached by car.

Not so easily by ship.

Before 1893, ships had to go down and around Peloponnesia to get from the Adriatic to the Aegean.

But we have ahead of us this afternoon one of those “tick-the-boxes” treats for world travelers: a passage through the strange, narrow Corinth Canal.

But first, we have a morning in Itea.

There’s not all that much in the port: a few taverns and cafés and a bank. There’s a little beach in town; as is the case most everywhere, the better beaches are away from the harbor.

Pleasant enough, but that’s not the reason we’re here.

Just east of Itea is Kirra, which was the ancient port of Delphi.

And 15 kilometers, or 10 miles northeast are the partly restored ruins of Delphi itself.

The ancient and the modern town of Delphi are on the southwestern section of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.

It was here that Apollo slew the Python, a dragon who lived there and protected the navel of the Earth.

Yes, there is a place in Delphi the ancients believed to be the belly button of the planet, the Omphalos.


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Photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved

This was also the site of the Oracle of Delphi, the most important of the classical Greek world.

An oracle was a person—or sometimes a group of people—considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophecy.

Oracles were considered portals through which the gods spoke directly to people.

The most important oracles of Greek antiquity were the Sybil or Pythia priestess to Apollo at Delphi, and the oracle of Dione and Zeus at Dodona in Epirus.

In some ways, not too bad a job.

Chosen from among the peasants of the area, she was required to be an older woman of blameless life.

She only gave prophecies the seventh day of each month, seven being the number most associated with Apollo, and only during the nine warmer months of the year.

Hordes of people came to consult with Pythia and her successors.

Some wealthier individuals were said to have tried to jump the line with special offerings. Bribes, you might say.

An acquaintance of mine who is a professor of antiquities in Istanbul described the oracles of ancient Greece as borderline crazies who spoke in tongues.

Actually, he may be on to something.

Observers wrote that the Pythia seemed to be in a trance, speaking gibberish.

She sat on a tripod seat over an opening in the earth.

Vapors rose from a cleft in the rock at the navel of the earth.

According to one version of the story, when Apollo slew Python, its body fell into this fissure, giving rise to the fumes.

Intoxicated by the vapors, the Oracle would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit.

One line of thinking is that some sort of natural gas—perhaps ethylene or methane or carbon dioxide or even hydrogen sulfide might have been coming from the earth.

That might have been enough to intoxicate the oracle, if not kill her.

And it would have smelled pretty bad.

People consulted the Delphic oracle on everything from personal affairs to important matters of public policy.

The ravings of the Oracle were “translated” by the priests of the temple.

If it sounds like that might be source of some of the campaign planks of some of our current politicians…you just might be on to something.


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Text and images copyright 2016 by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.


SEE THE “How to Order a Photo or Autographed Book” TAB ON THIS PAGE FOR INSTRUCTIONS