Cruising the Canal, Damaging the Diolkos

One of the consequences of spending a summer morning talking with Sophia Loverdou was seeing the diolkos in a whole new light.  I had contacted Sophia following the recommendation of a reviewer (on a forthcoming diolkos article) that a woman had launched a crusade to save the diolkos of Corinth.  I had seen Sophia’s name before but had not read much about her campaign.  I wanted to hear her story and so I arranged a meeting at Poseidonia on the Corinthian Gulf.  As we walked along and visited different parts of the road, I kept looking for clues that might unlock the archaeology and history of the road.  Sophia, on the other hand, kept talking about the modern organizations that were responsible for the road’s utter destruction: the Corinth Canal Company and the Greek Ministry of Culture, among others. 

We stopped above the poorly preserved Sectors D and E and talked about how the road had come to look like this. 

 Sectors C and D

A few minutes later, one of those bulk freighters, the “EKO 3” was towed into the entrance of the canal.  I was surprised to see the dramatic change in the amount of water over the remains of the road. The first picture below shows the road as the EKO entered the canal.


The second image shows the displaced water as the EKO passed by.  Note the dark sediments and sand carried back into the canal from the banks.


In the half hour that we stood there talking, we watched three smaller vessels pass through and have a comparable effect on the road.  Meanwhile, Sophia kept talking about the webs of complicity and criminality responsible for damaging the road.  I was at least understanding the problem now.

The day ended and I went back to Ancient Corinth and downloaded the images.  I returned the following day to reexamine some blocks and take additional photographs.  As ships moved in and out of the western entrance to the canal, I decided to take a few videos documenting the damage.  Many of the vessels were like simple passenger carriers that had some minor effect on the road.

I was surprised, though, by the Catamaran Glass Bottom Boat, a vessel based in the Saronic that takes parties of tourists through the canal many times each day.  I myself had journeyed through the canal on this kind of boat only two years ago.  I was surprised that such a small vessel produced bow waves that easily reached and eroded the diolkos on the banks of the canal.

But the monster ship that day was the mega cruise ship “The Coral” discussed in yesterday’s post.  After I filmed it passing by the Nero relief, I jumped in my car and drove to the bridge about a kilometer to the west.  And here, the water that rushed back caught me by surprise.

According to the website of the Corinth Canal Company (A.E.D.I.K.), some 11,000 marine vessels of all kinds pass through the Corinth Canal every year: tiny fishing boats, large cargo vessels, cruise ships with waving passengers, private yachts bearing sleepy vacationers, and ugly cranes and barges.  I’m still not sure who or which organization(s) are to blame for the destruction of this unique monument of the ancient Mediterranean, but it’s clear that constant canal traffic has had a major force in eroding the road.  I can understand how an ancient limestone road cannot compete with a monumental canal, and I also get how no one wants to claim responsibility or blame for the deterioration of this monument, but should there not be some greater systematic effort to preserve the great trans-Isthmus road that has figured so prominently in discussions of the ancient Corinthia? 




  1. Some weeks ago, I took a video to show how close the longer devastated stretch of Diolkos is to the Control Tower of the Canal, in direct eye view actually(*). NOT seeing Diolkos, NOT knowing where it is, NOT realizing there were parts of it here or there, NOT having noticed its condition… The Ministry of Culture was happy to oblige whoever would present similar excuses by lying about the condition of the monument themselves. The part you photographed, for example, was officially described as presenting only subsidence in 2006 and 2007 (and THIS excuse does not end here, I am afraid). Whole parts of Diolkos were simply ABSENT from official descriptions, too (and to think that, although these various parts present differing characteristics that make them all the more precious to researchers, the PATH of the excavated monument is absolutely simple). Speaking the truth, showing photos, protesting for their practices, has little if any EFFECT on unworthy officials whose principal (not to say only) aim is to cover everybody involved (**) – everybody BUT the victim, that is…. Actually the modern saga of Diolkos IS the plot of a crime novel. The moves of the various players make no sense at all if one tries to see them as the result of care for the dilaniated monument! They only make sense as efforts to construct alibis.
    Every move Diolkos’ keepers are FORCED to make is ALSO used to create excuses for future abandonment. Having been MADE to do some mapping (?), for example, the Ministry of Culture is NOW pretending that everything IS under control and that the initial stretches of Diolkos will be “returned” to their “previous condition”!?! Meaning, why fuss, why look into responsibilities, why try to temporarily protect anything? The whole thing CAN disappear …. NO DAMAGE DONE!

    So, thanks for being to Diolkos and thanks for seeing the obvious… Too many people just don’t!

    Some more details & images, can be found at:

    (**) I only recently found out a “detail” that everybody was keeping silent about: the Canal Company was operating with one High Official of the Ministry of Finance and two representatives of the local government in their Board of Directors!!!

  2. It is not just the monument, the remnants of the ancient road used for transferring the ships to the other side, in a bad state. The whole area is in a disgusting state!!!
    Besides, according to the decision of some government official, who knows whom, they have cut the ancient road in order to make the passing of the public road whilst they should have done an over way to protect the monument. The whole area could have been developed so that tourists could enter via an entrance with a ticket (giving entrance permission to the acropolis of Corinth and the museum as well) and follow the path to the end of Diolkos… The whole thing could have been an interesting project.

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