The Ancient Diolkos of Corinth, one of the greatest technical works of antiquity, is being restored. Over the last year, the Corinth Ephorate of Antiquities is conducting works of enhancement and protection on the ancient stone paved road on which ships were transported overland from the Corinthian Gulf to the Saronic Gulf and vice versa. Once completed and when allowed by the pandemic situation, the iconic monument will be ready to welcome the general public through on-site tours being planned.
“The Diolkos of Corinth has been recorded in research as the first systematic attempt to transport goods and warships from the Saronic Gulf to the Corinthian Gulf and vice versa, to avoid the approximately 190 miles long circumnavigation of the Peloponnese.The monument’s first excavator, archaeologist Nikolaos Verdelis places its construction either at the end of the 7th c. or the beginning of the 6th c. B.C. The idea of its construction is attributed to the tyrant of Corinth Periandros, whose rule is considered as a period of great economic and artistic prosperity for Corinth “, says archaeologist Georgios Spyropoulos, deputy head of Corinth Ephorate of Antiquities to the AMNA. Mr. Spyropoulos supervises the project that has been included in the Regional Operational Programme “Peloponnese 2014-2020” of the NSRF, implemented by the Corinth Ephorate of Antiquities, the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and the Region of the Peloponnese and supervised on behalf of the Corinth Ephorate by Mr Spyropoulos himself, its head Panagiota Kasimi and archaeologist Aglaia Koutrombi. The monument is situated on the boundaries of the municipalities of Corinth and Loutraki-Perachora-Agioi Theodoroi.
With an “S” shaped course and a gradient of no more than 1.5%, the stone paved road had a total length of about 8 km from coast to coast, while its width ranged from between approximately 3.4 m to 6 m. What survives of the road today? “On the road surface, there are two main wheel ruts, about 1.5 m wide, as well as several secondary ones. A total of 1,100 meters have been uncovered and the course of the Diolkos has become known both on the west end, west of the Canal, on the Peloponnese, and at the School of Engineering, on the mainland. There is no evidence today however of its east end on the Saronic side, which written sources place in the area of ancient Schinounta (today’s Kalamaki)”, Mr. Spyropoulos informs us.
The Diolkos, used over many centuries from archaic times to the Roman period, was an innovative and inspiring technical achievement. Its mode of operation proves it: “According to the monument’s first excavator, the ships arrived at the NW end of the Diolkos, in the current location of Poseidonia, Corinth, where there was a paved platform for their towing onto dry land. They were then placed with the help of cranes on wheeled structures pulled along by slaves. In this way the ship was transported from one end of the Corinthian gulf to the Saronic or vice versa. The route was not easy and there was always the risk of derailment due to the bends of the Diolkos. So as to avoid accidents, additional small walls were constructed in hazardous spots such as the one inside today’s School of Engineering “, explains Mr. Spyropoulosto the AMNA.
So was the Diolkos the first known means of wheeled transport in the world? ” The Diolkos was indeed a means of wheeled transport with a specific route. The same function, however, was ensured by the carriage roads, the principles of which precede the Diolkos. What makes the Diolkos important however is that it was made with the aim of swiftly and safely moving ships, meant for sea transport, by land. It was not built in a straight line but followed the terrain so as to save resources and energy. As the Belgian archaeologist Rapsaet points out, the excavated parts of the Diolkos display technical features that make it an admirable work. The precision of its course and its meticulous construction, as well as its relatively long length regarding a permanent facility, suggest an emphasis on a ‘formal’ road network, with obviously important implications for the topography of the time”, notes Mr Spyropoulos.
The ancient work provided resources for Corinth and control of trade and sea routes in both the Ionian (west) and the Aegean (east). At the same time, Corinth had two important, active ports, Lechaio to the west and Kechries to the east, to support this intense commercial activity. “Undoubtedly, the Diolkos played a key part in Corinth’s place as monarch of the seas at the beginning of the Archaic period, regarding its achievements and know-how in shipbuilding and navigation, but also its wealth, famed in antiquity, precisely because of its maritime trading supremacy. I should remind you that the triremes, the most important warships in antiquity, are a Corinthian invention. Thucydides, specifically, also mentions the name of the Corinthian Amenoklis as a builder of triremes”, adds Mr. Spyropoulos to the AMNA.
The restoration and enhancement of the Diolkos includes a set of complex works, earth removal, research and restoration to make the monument easier to interpret, the use of modern means to document its features and making it accessible to the public at large.