"" Writer's Wanderings: Ancient Corinth

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Ancient Corinth

Expectations should always be kept in check. That’s what I always tell anyone about traveling. It’s easy to give advice. Harder to follow it yourself. Our tour to Ephesus some years ago was amazing and when the opportunity presented itself with another stop in Nafplion this segment of our cruise, we signed up for a tour of ancient Corinth.

Our tour guide was a little Greek lady who had a good sense of humor and we enjoyed her banter as we rode the bus to our first stop at the Corinth canal. It connects the Ionian Sea with the Aegean Sea.  The canal separates the Peloponnese Peninsula from the Greek mainland, essentially making it an island. It was begun in the first century AD but abandoned. Eventually in the 19th century, work was begun again and it was finished in 1893.

The canal is four miles long and almost 80 feet wide and is at sea level so there are no locks. The problem is that modern ships are way too large to make it feasible for travel so basically it is nothing more than a tourist attraction now.

We were let out of the bus on a small side street among several other buses and pointed in the direction of the bridge we had just crossed. There is a pedestrian way on either side of the traffic lanes and so we walked midway across on one side to take a picture in the direction of the Ionian Sea and then crossed the street and walked midway again to take a picture in the direction of the Aegean. There was an opportunity for bungie jumping but we passed. There just wasn’t enough time, of course.

Pictures done, everyone loaded onto the bus again for a twenty minute ride to Ancient Corinth. Lots of information from our tour guide but way too much to absorb as usual. Finally we arrived. I was excited. I wanted to walk the paths of Corinth and imagine what it was like when Paul visited and established the first church in Europe there.

Corinth is not as well preserved or restored as Ephesus. Part of the problem was an earthquake that took place in the late 19th century according to our guide. Still many of the Doric columns of the temple of Apollo still stand. They are the first things you notice as you go in the gate. It was built around 560 BC. Now at this point, you begin to realize how significant the structures around you are given their age.

We paused at the Bema, the seat of judgement. It was a raised rostrum in the middle of the Roman forum and would have been in the center of the city where it is said Paul was brought to trial for preaching a new religion to the Jews at the synagogue. Acts 18 tells the story. The Jews brought Paul before the proconsul, Gallio, and accused him. Gallio said he could not pass judgement on something that had to do with Jewish laws. It was up to the synagogue leaders. The crowd turned on Sosthenes, the synagogue leader, and beat him instead. Later, during the Byzantine era, the Bema was made into a church.

The Bema, the judgement seat

There was a road, the Lechaion, preserved that led into the city from the sea. Along the road were shops and baths where sailors could get supplies and clean themselves up. One spot where we stopped had a large pool, or fountain, that was fed by four cisterns. The foundations of the shops were tiny except for one which had a large archway that had been preserved or reconstructed.

Unfortunately, we could not walk around the whole of the ancient ruins. I’m sure there was much more to see and learn but our guide insisted on taking us into the tiny museum which was crowded and full of all the Roman sculptures and statues and bits and pieces of pottery. I am not a museum fan especially under crowded circumstances.

Two things of interest in the museum however (at least for me) were the floor mosaics that had been mounted on the wall. One was fully intact with the head of Dionysos pictured in the center of it.

The other thing that I found interesting mainly because it related to another place we had been was the healing sanctuary. When someone was healed, they would make a mold or sculpture of the body part that had been healed and place it in the place of worship. We visited a church a while back which I believe was in some part of Greece and the practice was still going on. There was a huge room full of body parts, crutches, etc., that were placed there as a thanksgiving offering to the healing.

There were also two statues of “giants” said to be from the Apollo temple I think.

On our way out of the museum, she paused and pointed to an empty spot on the wall. “That’s where the sign they found from the Jewish synagogue is supposed to be displayed. It is out for cleaning and repair.” Beneath the sign was a capital from a column, I believe, that showed several menorahs. It is all the proof they have been able to find of the synagogue that was there.

As we were making our way to the bus, we noticed a fenced area with a sign, “Roman Odeum”. It was an open air theater of sorts built in the first century AD and was said to seat about 3,000 people for drama and music productions.

Of course no excursion or tour is complete without the souvenir stop. At least this one was a bit more upscale. It was a ceramic shop that sold museum reproductions of bowls, plates, etc., even ashtrays! Who knew they used ashtrays in the early Roman period?

We did a once through in the store and noticed a cafĂ© adjacent to it. I opted for a paper cup of coffee rather than a first century reproduction of a cup. The coffee was good and helped relieve the hunger I was beginning to feel. It was past lunchtime. Can’t miss a meal on the ship. No sir.

Ancient Corinth can be reached out of Athens as well as Nafplion and I’m sure other places along the way. I think it’s about an hour drive from Athens. Paul walked it in two days but I don’t know that I would recommend that. They were a lot hardier in Paul’s day.

 A little of our tour guide's humor to leave you with. She said when Greeks don't understand something instead of using the phrase that we normally use, they say, "It's all Chinese to me!"

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