Updated September 15th, 2022 by Travel the Greek Way

Roman Mosaic in 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.

Isthmian Games

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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Quick Isthmia Reference

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 have heard of Isthmia small town, the Isthmian Games, and their importance in ancient Greece.

Which were the Panhellenic Ancient Games?

Olympic Games
Vintage engraving of the Ancient Olympic Games

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 the 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, founded in 582 BC, lasted 3 days and included gymnastics, running, wrestling, boxing, pankration, and pentathlon. The Games continued to exist well into the Roman period of Greece and actually, and the Roman Emperor Neron in 67 AD participated in the Games.

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 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?

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 get across the canal.

Isthmia in Corinth Greece, cafe by the Corinth Canal
Isthmia Bridge Cafe

Have a swim in the nearby beautiful Isthmia Beach.

Isthmia in Corinth beach
Isthmia Beach
View from Acrocorinth fortifications

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

Hiking seaside Peloponnese Greece from a high spot
Hiking seaside in 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
Kechries ancient port

Go to the Ancient Port of Kechries where Apostle Paul left for Ephesos in 51 AD.

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.

Plan Your Next Trip to Greece With These Resources

There are so many things to visit in Ancient Isthmia. I hope that you get the chance to try as many as possible. Till next time, Evgenia❤️

Some of my Favorite Travel Resources for Greece

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Hi! I am an Athens-based Greek obsessed with exploring Greece and bringing you the best travel experience ever!

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