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Peloponnese Guide: Ancient Corinth

Ancient Corinth

area mapOne of the most important and powerful cities of ancient Greece, Corinth became the center of commercial traffic between Europe and Asia reaching its height circa the 5th century BC.

Ancient Corinth both benefited and was victimized by its strategic geographic location astride the isthmus.

On the plus side its location enabled it to impose tolls on transit goods and even ships themselves as they were winched over the isthmus using The Doilkos, a 4 mile long paved road constructed specifically for the purpose. Mercantile Captains preferred the paid portage and calmer Gulf of Corinth to the rough and dangerous waters of Cape Tenaron and the open Aegean. The Doilkos lopped off over 300 nautical miles of the voyage to Sicillia. Ancient Corinth had two major harbors. Lechaion on the Gulf of Corinth and Kenchreai on the Saronic Gulf.

where the sites areOn the down side, as the only land route into the Peloponnese it was also open to incursions from migrating invaders such as the Dorians and others with designs on the peninsula. Corinth, possibly due to over population founded many colonies and further enriched herself. One of the most successfully of these: Kerkyra, or Corfu, however, soon grew so wealthy that it sought independence from Corinth and this conflict, due to complex treaties and alliances with neighboring states, was the cause of the 1st Peloponnesian war and also of the first ever recorded sea battle.

Ancient Corinth

acrcorinth behindThe ruins of ancient Corinth (7km/4.5miles southwest of the modern town) are spread out over a series of sites, the best view of the surrounding area and indeed much of the Peloponnese itself is to be had from the striking acropolis-fortress of Acro-corinth at an altitude of 565 meters above the ancient city. The ramparts of Acrocorinth is are just visible above and behind the ruins of the Temple of Apollo in the picture left. Acrocorinth is distinct from ancient Corinth and overlooked by far too many visitors.

The ancient city of Corinth sits below and towards the coast. It sprawls over a huge area including sections of walls (in Roman times having a 15km circuit), stadiums, gymnasiums and necropolises. The best preserved excavated central area includes the Classical Temple of Apollo and the Roman forum.

The city was immensely wealthy-a key center of the Greek and Roman worlds controlling trade between the northern mainland of Greece and the Peloponnese. The two ports of Lechaion on the Gulf of Corinth and Kenchreai on the Saronic Gulf connected the Ionian and Aegean Seas. Corinth was a rival of Athens, and sided against it with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War.

temple of OctaviaIn 146 BC the Romans destroyed the city, which wasn't rebuilt until a century had passed. It was rebuilt on a grandiose scale by Julius Caesar in 44 BC, at first planned as a colony for veterans, but later became the provincial capital and became rich again as a trading power, with Rome to the west and Syria and Egypt to the east. The opulence of the city seems to have led to decadence, with the temple of Aphrodite/Astarte (on the acropolis of Acrocorinth) serviced by over a thousand 'sacred' prostitutes, drawn from the famously beautiful Corinthian women. In 51-52AD St. Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth and tried to bring about reform, but his efforts were met only with rioting (events which are recorded in his letters to the people of this city). Some might say that the city was punished by God when two huge earthquakes struck it in 375 and 521, which leveled the Roman buildings and cleaned out the population once again.

plan of the ruins corinthThe site of Ancient Corinth is open daily in summer 8:30am to 7pm; winter 8am to 5pm; 6euros. Due to the successions of earthquakes, it is the Roman city that dominates the site, including the huge Agora (marketplace) near which are seen the foundations of an enormous stoa of several levels, with 33 shops on the ground level. The area is of a truly remarkable size: two rectangles on two levels, each measuring 150meters by 90meters (492 by 295 feet). From this enormous open space one can get spectacular upward views of the Acrocorinth.

Across from the stoa is a 'bema'-a marble platform used for public speeches. There are also remains of a basilica (at the lower level of the Agora). It was from here that the statues of captives displayed in the museum were taken. There are also ruins of Roman administrative buildings, as well as a round sanctuary to Hera, (the Naos Iras). Across the agora a grille covers a sacred spring (Iera Krini) at the bottom of some steps, one of the few surviving signs of the Greek city that was here. It was linked via a secret passage with the sanctuary of the Oracle. A priest concealed beneath the altar answered the petitioners, who were no doubt convinced that they were speaking directly with the oracle. The Roman Fountain of Peirene is below the agora near the Lechaion Way, the marble paved approach to the city. It is in a colonnaded recess with frescoes. one of the two natural springs of Corinth is here (the other on the acropolis). Its water was channeled into a grandiose fountain and pool in the avli (garden/courtyard). This sumptuous fountain house was a gift of a wealthy friend of the Emperor Hadrian-the Athenian Herodes Atticus. The modern town is still supplied by this water, which flows from subterranean cisterns.

temple apolloThe Temple of Apollo, with its seven Doric columns made of tufa and covered with white stucco, , is one of the few surviving buildings from the Classical Greek period, dates to the 6th or 5th century BC. Smaller excavations surround the main site. In one is a Roman odeon, also endowed by Herodes Atticus,; a large Greek theater (used by the Romans for gladiatorial sea battles), and an Asklepion. This temple is at the highest point on the site of ancient Corinth.

The site museum is open in summer Mon noon-7pm, Tues-Sun *:30 to 7pm; winder daily 8am-5pm, and is included in site admission. It houses a large collection of domestic items, mosaics (both Roman and Greek) and a frieze depicting the labors of Hercules ( in Greek Iraklis), several of which were performed in the surrounded area. Beautiful Archaic ceramics with oriental decoration are also here-vases with plant motifs in black and some variant of red. These had been major export items from Corinth during the 8th-7th centuries BC. There are also sphinx statues from the 6th century BC, a gallery of Roman antiquities, and huge statues of captives from the agora.

the north east encienteAcrocorinth sits up on a very steep, sheer rock and is still mostly enclosed by 2km of wall. Open daily summer 8am-7pm;winter Tues-Sun *:30am-2pm;free. This is the ancient acropolis of Corinth, which became one of the most powerful of Greece's medieval fortresses. It was besieged by successive invaders who saw it as the gate to the Morea (the old name for the Peloponnese). It takes a good hour to walk up to it (though the walk is only 4km), but there is a car road too. It is highly recommended, though. The remains are extensive, and especially the Turkish ones. The list of invaders who erected buildings up there include Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Frankish crusaders, Venetians and Turks.

At the beginning of the climb up you pass the fountain of Hatzi Mustafa, which has had carved crosses add to it. The outermost of the citadel's triple gates is mostly Turkish, the middle both Venetian and Frankish, and the inner Byzantine. There are parts of a bath house (Turkish), cisterns, discovery cageand Byzantine chapels. Hidden in the ground is the upper Peirene spring, with broad steps leading down to it. Have someone point the way. A 4th century BC arch is over the pool. Unfortunately, you can't drink the water that is still there. The Temple of Aphrodite (which doubled as a brothel in the old days, passed through other incarnations as a church, mosque and a belvedere.

The name 'Corinth' is pre-Greek and the area has been inhabited since 5,000 BC with neolithic finds from nearby caves dating to 80,000 BC. Left: The discovery cave in the Ermione Valley.

 

greece sites sights mapGreece Travelers may take a luxury coach tour, rent a car or empower themselves with a private Oracle tour of their own design. Consider these other popular Greece travel destinations. If its on the Greek mainland Oracle can take you there in air conditioned & non-smoking security!

Athens, Cape Sounion, Ancient Corinth, Delphi & Ossios Lukas, Drama, Florina, Greneva, Chalkidiki, Imathia, Kastoria, Kavala, Kozani, Meteora, Mt. Athos, Mycenaea, Naufplion, Olympia, Pella and Vergina, Phillipi & Kavala, Dion & Mt Olympus, Sparta & Mystras, The Mani and Monemvasia, Thessaloniki,
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