In Ancient Greece, Corinth was a wealthy, cosmopolitan city thanks to its location. It controlled land access to the Peloponnese, and as a result, controlled trade in both the east and the west. While modern Corinth is not quite the Corinth of its heyday, the ruins of Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth are certainly worth a visit. I don’t recommend spending the night in Corinth, but it makes a great day trip from Athens or a stopping point on your way to Nafplio or other sites like Mycenae or Epidaurus.
A Brief History of the Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal was completed in 1893. The canal separates the Peloponnese from mainland Greece, connecting the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf. In ancient times, Corinth’s location gave it control of the harbors on both sides of the isthmus which, in part, led to its wealth.
Merchants approaching from the east or west had to pay to cross overland since the 200 mile trip around the Peloponnese was too dangerous. The construction of the canal was first attempted in the first century AD by the Roman Emperor Nero but the plans were never finalized. Since the canal is so narrow, it’s not of much use for trade today but it makes for a great tourist attraction!
Accessing the Corinth Canal
The highway (E94) from Athens to Corinth does not provide views of the canal. Instead, take Exit 9 (Loutraki) and follow signs for the old bridge. You can either park before or after the bridge at one of the tavernas or shopping areas and walk to the bridge for breathtaking views of the Corinth Canal.
Ancient Corinth may not look like much on the surface, but you will find ruins from both Classical Greece and Roman times as the Romans took over the city in 146 BC. You will also walk in the footsteps of St. Paul, who visited in 51 AD and later inspired First and Second Corinthians from the New Testament.
A highlight of Ancient Corinth is the Temple of Apollo, a Doric temple built circa 540 BC. This is one of the most recognizable sites of Ancient Corinth since many of the other “must-sees” are mostly in ruins. Highlights include the Bema, the spot where Roman officials made announcements and addressed the public and Peirene Fountain. Mythology states that Peirene cried so much after her son was killed by Artemis that the gods turned her into a fountain. If you have time, check out the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth which is included with your ticket to the archaeological site.
The acropolis of Corinth, or Acrocorinth, is located 575 meters above Corinth. The site was first fortified by the Greeks but you will also see additions made by the Romans, Franks, Venetians, and Turks. At the highest point is the site of the former Temple of Aphrodite.
It’s an easy drive to the top if you have a car. If not, I recommend getting a taxi to avoid an hour-long hike on what will likely be a hot day. Acrocorinth is quite large so bring water and comfortable walking shoes.
Like with many ancient ruins in Greece, it’s interesting to see the influence of the different civilizations that touched the same piece of land. If you have a day to spare, consider stopping in Corinth on your way to other parts of the Peloponnese or make it a day trip from Athens.