“Exploring the Peloponnese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ second scheduled tour in Greece in 2018. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog, following last year’s precedents in Crete and the Dodecanese. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
Today was the day we actually entered the Peloponnese. This is done, as it always has been, by crossing the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow neck of land connecting the peninsula that is the Peloponnese with the Greek mainland. In antiquity, the definition of quite at which point one enters the Peloponnese would have been a little hazy; in all likelihood, it would have been considered to take place further north than now, at the border of the Corinthia, the territory controlled by the city-state of Corinth.
Since the late 19th century, there is a clear, stark and linear definition: the Corinth Canal. A straight and violent cut through the Isthmus has made the Peloponnese technically an island, separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of clear blue water. So, today, the moment of entering the Peloponnese is defined by crossing one of the bridges across the canal.
The Corinthians of antiquity benefited greatly from their narrow Isthmus, giving their city access to two seas: the Gulf of Corinth, a fairly narrow offshoot of the southern Ionian Sea to the west, easily accessible from Italy and the Adriatic, and the Saronic Gulf, bordered by Athens and the Argolid to the East, giving access to Aegean. The ancient Corinthians had no canal, but they linked their two harbours as early as the 6th century BC by the diolkos, a paved roadway permitting ships to be dragged across, saving them several days of circumnavigating the Peloponnese and avoiding the dangerous waters in its south. Corinth became wealthy due to its position in a spot connecting two seas and two landmasses, and the fees for boat-dragging surely helped.
The idea of a canal was proposed many times: by the Archaic tyrants of Corinth in the 6th century BC, by the Macedonian King Demetrios Poliorketes in the 4th century BC, by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, by the Roman emperors Caligula and Nero in the first century AD (Nero supposedly started digging for it with a golden shovel), by the Venetians in the 17th and 18th centuries, by the newly-formed Greek state in the 1830s. It was finally achieved by French and Greek engineers in the 1880s.
For us, the canal is a convenient landmark, a visible demarcation of entering the Peloponnese, and thus important on a tour dedicated to the peninsula. It is also an impressive sight: a narrow line of water is overshadowed by the 90m (300ft) limestone cliffs towering over it on either side, on a length of 6.4km (4 miles), with the Corinthian and Saronic Gulfs visible in the distance. It certainly made for an impressive entry to our beginning explorations in the Peloponnese, as we were heading onwards to ancient Nemea and historic Nafplio…
Tomorrow, we will encounter great prehistoric finds and splendid landscapes on our way to Laconia.