In late April 2012, we had a chance to explore a seldom-visited portion of the ancient diolkos that is located on the isthmus that connects the Greek mainland with the Peloponnese. This portion has been excavated and is very well preserved.
The Diolkos [Greek meaning “haul across”] was a paved “road” that connected the Corinthian and Saronic Gulfs before the Corinthian Canal was dug. It was built because sailing around the southern tip of the Peloponnese was very treacherous. Strabo, for example, writes ‘But when you sail around Cape Malea, forget your home” (= “you’ll never return!”; viii 6, 20). The ancients offloaded their cargo, dragged it on wheeled carts across the isthmus from one gulf to the other to the other side of the isthmus, and then loaded it on to another ship. Small to medium size ships could be transported from gulf to gulf by this method also.
The Diolkos was constructed during the sixth century B.C. and was in use for over 1,000 years! It was made of large paving stones and was about 11 to 20 ft. [3.4 to 6 m.] wide. It followed a circuitous route, avoiding high ground if possible, from one side of the isthmus to another.
It is probable that some of the wealth of the nearby Corinth was derived from tolls, tariffs, and servicing the personnel associated with the shipping industry and servicing and maintaining the “road.”
To view additional photos of the diolkos plus additional commentary and a detailed map of its route — Click Here.