Trip from Athens to the Unknown Ancient Isthmia in Corinth

Where exactly is Ancient Isthmia?

Ancient Isthmia is 77 km (48 ml) far from Athens, very close to the Corinth Canal and Ancient Corinth.

Isthmia has taken its name from Corinth Canal or else the Isthmus of Corinth and is mostly known for the place where Ancient Isthmian Games were held.

Today, besides the Isthmia archaeological site and tiny in-house museum, there is a small flourishing settlement in the same area of Isthmia, with beautiful coves and beaches surrounded by the pine forest that characterizes the whole area since antiquity.

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You can travel to Isthmia by public transport (KTEL buses Kifisou) but the best way to visit the whole area of Corinth and nearby Argolis, is by renting your own car:

Check, compare and save with the RentalCars:

Why were the Isthmian Games Important?

Ancient Isthmia

Everyone has heard of the Olympic Games and probably a lot of people also know that their birthplace was in Greece, in the beautiful area of Ancient Olympia.

But not so many are aware of Isthmia small town, the Isthmian Games, and their importance in ancient Greece.

Which were the most Distinct Panhellenic Ancient Games?

Ancient Olympia flame ceremony
Ancient Olympia

Ancient Greeks organized four Athletic (and later Musical and Theatrical) Games in different time zones so that everyone could participate in all four if he wanted to.

The Games gave the opportunity to Greeks to gather together, celebrate, make alliances, and reconnect (also probably to gossip and schedule the next war).

The time in ancient Greece was organized in groups of 4 years called Olympiad and was going like that:

  • Year one of Olympiad: The Olympic Games were held in Ancient Olympia
  • Year two: The Nemean and Isthmian Games were both held (in different months)
  • Year three: The Pythian Games (in Delphi) were organized
  • Year four: The Nemean and Isthmian Games again in year four and then another Olympiad would start and so on.

The Isthmian Games included gymnastics, run, wrestling, boxing, pankration, and pentathlon.

The Isthmian Games were founded in 582 BC, and lasted 3 days.

The Games continued to exist well into the Roman period of Greece and actually, the Roman Emperor Neron in 67 AD participated in the Games.

Isthmia Beach Resort
  • In a hurry? Check out this quick reference:
  • Where to stay in Isthmia: Kalamaki Beach Resort
  • Heading to the island from Athens? Book your ferry tickets in advance with no-hidden-fees FerryHopper
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The Monuments in the Archaeological Site of Isthmia

The Isthmia began to be systematically inhabited by Ionians around the 12th century BC.

The Ionian Greeks built between 690-650 BC., the Temple of Poseidon, the god of the sea to honor him.

Around the Temple, were also built the other significant supporting buildings where the Games were organized:

Ancient Isthmia and remains of the Temple
  • The Race Course
  • The Stadium: Built in 550 BC, you can still see today 16 of its starting points
  • The Theater – only some parts of the foundations are visible
  • The Gymnasium, known as Kraneio
  • The Roman Baths, built in 150-160 AD probably by Herodes Atticus. Their mosaic is similar to those in Ostia and Pompeii and they are in good condition.
Roman Baths

In the Roman Baths on the mosaic, don’t miss the octopus with its 7 tentacles and crabs.

Another black and white mosaic depicts a Nereid riding a Triton and surrounded by various sea creatures.

I love mosaic, and I am so glad they have restored it to such perfection.

Below the floor of the Roman bath are traces of a bath of the Greek classical period.

Excavations in Isthmia were made in 1952 by Professor of Archeology at the University of Chicago Oscar Broner, under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

Ancient Isthmia
Surrounding fields

The winners were initially given a wreath of pine and from the beginning of the 5th c., the wreath was made of wild celery, while in Roman times from both.

© Holy Land Photos

The Ancient Isthmia operated for more than 900 years until the invasion of the Visigoths of Alarichos in the 4th century AD who destroyed it.

The Isthmia Archaeological Museum

Isthmia Museum

Since 1978, there is a small museum with exhibits from the surrounding site, from Kechries ancient port, and with prehistorical findings from the Isthmia ancient cemetery.

The entrance fee to the site and museum is 2 euro, and it is open daily between 8.30 am – 15.00 (3 pm).

What else is around Isthmia?

Isthmus Canal

Isthmia is such an interesting place to visit and right in the middle of many other sites to explore:

Go to Isthmia Bridge Cafe, for a snack or a coffee and watch the bridge submerge to let the ships pass and emerge to let the cars and people cross the canal.

Isthmia Bridge Cafe © Christian Strupler

Have a swim in the nearby beautiful Isthmia Beach.

Isthmia Beach © Sea & Sand
View from Acrocorinth fortifications

Go to the fascinating Sites of Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth (7,5 km far)

Perahora Loutraki hiking Rocky seaside
Perachora Loutraki

Go to Loutraki seaside town (6,5 km far) with the Mineral Waters, the Casino and Perachora. (great area for seaside hiking)

kechries ancient port in Corinth area with one woman sitting

Go to the Ancient Port of Kechries where Apostle Paul left to Ephesos in 51 AD (6,5 km).

First time to Corinth? Book an enjoyable full-day tour of  Isthmus Canal, Acrocorinth castle, Ancient Corinth, Ancient Heraion, Melagkavi Lighthouse with pick-up/drop-off service from your hotel, and a live tour guide. Book your tour here with the professionalism of GetYourGuide local partners.

Where to Stay in Athens

I hope I have inspired you to go to the amazing Ancient Isthmia the next time you are visiting Greece. Meanwhile, stay safe, travel the world, and enjoy life!

Some of my Favorite Travel Resources for Greece

  • All the archaeological sites in Greece that have entrance fees can be found on the official Greek Ministry’s website here. Before you purchase your tickets, especially if you are an EU citizen, check if you have free or reduced entrance. You should also check to see if you happen to visit on one of the free entrance dates. If you are going to Acropolis during the peak season (May-September) prepurchase your tickets as the queues are insane. Finally, from November to March entrance fees to all Archaeological Sites are 50% off everywhere in Greece for everyone.
  • Map of Athens Metro here
  • I use because I can get the best deals, have info on hotels and Airbnb’s alike, with breakfast or not, free cancellations, and great prices!
  • Ferries: Book your ferry transfer with FerryHopper, and get the best price in the market with no hidden fees
  • World Nomads Insurance: I feel insecure traveling to another country without having even the most basic of insurances. Insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft and cancellations
  • iVisa: For any questions, you may have about your documents, passport if you need a visa, a new photo, or any visa-related matter, iVisa is your man (or woman!)
  • Get Your Guide: For all your day or multi-day tours and city guide needs, I use Get Your Guide
  • Emergency Numbers Anywhere in Greece: AMBULANCE 166 – FIRE 199 – POLICE 100 – EMERGENCY NUMBER 112
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