THE CORINTHIAN CANAL
Two Greek Gulfs Are Connected by a Waterway.
Although an undertaking of much less magnitude than the Isthmian canal on this continent yet a short description of the canal cut through the isthmus of Corinth or Megara and connecting the gulfs of Ægina and Corinth is not without interest at a time when a much larger canal—that of Panama—is about to be built.
Like the original Panama canal, its miniature was at first undertaken by French capitalists, only to be abandoned by them. Like it. also, the idea had been mooted by others before the undertaking was begun at all. As far back as boo B. C. Periander, the tyrant of. Corinth, was deterred only by a superstitious fear of the gods which filled the mind of the people from cutting through that little neck of land which separated his city from other centres of trade in Greece. Julius Caesar and Caligula, the Roman emperors, entertained the same idea, and the Emperor Nero began the work, which was interrupted by his death, and not attempted again till 1881. when Gen: Turr, aide-de-camp of Victor Emanuel, the first king of Italy, obtained the necessary rights for beginning the canal, and organised a company for the prosecution of the work Between that year, however, the Venetians many years before, when masters of the Peloponnesus, and the Greeks themselves under Governor Capodistria in the early days of Greek independence, the Cretan Engineer Lygouni, and the Greek government in 1869, had all planned the construction of the Corinthian canal the government having passed a law authorising its being built.
As has been said, it was in 1881 that Gen. Turr Organised a company in Paris for the construction, of the canal, which was begun from the Corinth side, and was divided into five sections. Three of these, or about 5,140 yards of the whole, as well as the last section jutting upon the isthmian side presented no difficulty to the excavators. . The trouble was with the fourth, or: intervening portion—some 300 yards—where:the rock was so hard that even dynamite could not dislodge a simple block. The time within which the work was to be completed was extended in vain; the company’s money gave out; and although a new subscription was made, and the company, after disposing of its costly machines, which had proved of no use to cut through the flinty strata, and had bought new machinery, only to find it equally of no avail, found itself again out of funds ($80,000 of which had gone in bridging the canal), and had a receiver put in. The outlay had been $10,000,000.
Another company was formed by M. Syngros, with a capital of $965,000. The work was undertaken vigorously, and, after a considerable amount of hardship was brought to a successful conclusion. The National Bank of Greece and the Cretan Industrial Bank had secured the necessary funds; the flinty rock was cut through; and in three years from the time that M. Syngros took the task in hand, it was inaugurated in July, 1893.
The canal shortens the distance between all points in the Adriates and the Pineus more than 130 miles. It is not an expensive water route, and it brings Patras and Pineus, the two centres of the export and import trade—at both of which most vessels must touch—within twelve hours of each other. Yet with all these advantages, in an age when a day’s time not infrequently decides the fate of competition, this water route is very little used by foreign ships, which prefer to sail along the Greek coast line, and to encounter the storms of the southern capes, involving at least twenty-four hours’ longer sail.
This can be accounted for in two ways. First, the canal is not well situated to catch ships. When a storm is raging in the open sea. it does not abate in the approach to the canal itself, which is like an open airshaft, through which the strong winds rush furiously rendering it difficult for the pilot to steer the ship between the precipitous walls of rock 260 feet high, between which there are only eighty feet of sea room. Another obstacle is a reversing current, due to a striking variation in the tides of the two gulfs. A third, and probably the real difficulty is tha size of the canal itself; its width at the bottom is sixty-eight feet eleven inches, and it has a depih of twenty-six feet three inches. Vessels of 23.5 feet draft and 68 5 feet beam are permitted by the regulations to pass, which dimensions would include most of the steamers regularly trading in Greek waters. Nevertheless, ihe exacting pilotage which such dimensions render necessary, emphasised by the reversing current, has, so far, served to make the canal much less used than it would have been when steamships were more modest in their dimensions.
It is loo late to think of changing the size of the route, but the other difficulties can be reduced, and probable that some effort will be made to remedy mntters At each approach the small breakwaters, while rendering necessary service, contribute to the difficulties of navigation, and are not sufticient to afford absolute protection to the canal. It is proposed to supersede these barriers by two large harbors that will make the approach less hazardous and will largely regulate the current. No action has as yet been taken, but some such plan is under consideration, although the extraordinary depth of the Corinthian gulf will render the repairs very costly.
The harbor on the Corinthian side is formed by two arms running from each side of the isthmus and terminating in a line with the two sides of the channel, so that vessels entering are ready to steer ahead. The isthmian harbor is formed of but a single arm. which closes the channel entirely towards the mainland, and requires the setting of a new course, both on entering and leaving the canal.
The span of the isthmus, as traced by the canal trout gulf to gulf, is 3.94 miles; its greatest depth is 259.7 feet. A solid block of masonry, some six feet in thickness, lines the base and sides of the channel to a height of 32.5 feet, or about seven feet above the sea level, as a protection against the currents, its extremities making a substantial quay on each side front sea to sea. The sides of the channel have required no special protection of masonry, except in a few sections, notwithstanding their precipitous pitch. A passenger on one of the Greek steamers, looking up at the railroad bridge which crosses the canal at a height of 122 feet, and is but 262 feet long from end to end. seems to be gazing almost straight upwards, while the slopes of the deepest part of the channel, through their greatest height, rise like two perpendicular cliffs. The slopes are protected from erosion by conduits, which skirt the edge of the summits and carry away all surface water. Sixty electric lamps of twenty-candlepower mark the channel at night, and on each side, at distances of 600 feet, are attached iron stanchions, to which ships may tie in case of accident, or as protection against a driving current.