Ancient Isthmia in Corinth 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 as the place where Ancient Isthmian Games were held.
Corinth Canal is a narrow strip of land that connects the Saronic Gulf (Athens gulf) with the Corinthian Gulf (northern Peloponnese), thus saving considerable sailing time for the boats.
It is about 6 km long and the works were completed between 1880 and 1893. You can visit the Corinth Isthmus Tourist Info Center for any Peloponnese-related information. The center also offers high-speed Wi-Fi connection, and there is a new platform offering visitors unique views of the Corinth Canal.
Today, besides the Isthmia archaeological site and small in-house museum, there is a small flourishing settlement in the same area of Isthmia, with beautiful coves and beaches surrounded by a pine forest.
Food Tip: On your way to the Ancient Isthmus in Corinth, stop at the Zois Bakery, its fruit cakes, and bread are delicious.
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Ancient Isthmia Map
Find the Isthmia Map here to visit easily all the sites mentioned in this post if you are coming from Athens!
Ancient Isthmia in Corinth
Ancient Isthmia in Corinth was one of Greece’s largest Panhellenic sanctuaries, dedicated to Poseidon (or Melicertes-Palaemon) and the hosting area of the Isthmian Games. The area, as it is set at a strategic junction between Peloponnese and the mainland (Beotia), held special importance throughout the Greek and Roman periods.
Ancient Corinth and Isthmia were also usual gathering areas to discuss important political matters and gather the army for a future war. Due to its location, armies would frequently march through the Isthmus with often disastrous consequences to the site and its temple.
The Isthmian Games
Although the Olympic Games are the most popular and widely known Games of Ancient Greece, they were definitely not the only ones! The Isthmian Games founded in 584 BCE, were very important Games and one of the major Panhellenic (that all Greeks participated in) ones in ancient Greece.
The winners were initially given a wreath of pine and from the beginning of the 5th c., the wreath was made of wild celery.
Ancient Greeks organized four Panhellenic 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, celebrate, make alliances, and reconnect (also probably to gossip and schedule the next war 😀 ).
The Olympic Games and The Pythian Games (in Delphi) were held every 4 years, and Nemean and Isthmian every 2 years.
The Isthmian Games, 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, the Roman Emperor Neron in 67 AD participated in the Games.
The Monuments in the Archaeological Site of Isthmia
The Isthmia area began to be systematically inhabited by Ionians around the 12th century BC. The Ionian Greeks built between 690-650 BCE, the Temple of Poseidon, the god of the sea, to honor him. The temple of Poseidon was reconstructed three times from the middle of the 7th century BC to 146 BC. Around the Temple, you will also see the remains of the peribolos of the shrine of Palaemon as well as the other significant supporting buildings where the Games were organized:
- 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.
In the Roman Baths, you will see one of its most impressive mosaics, the octopus with its 7 tentacles and crabs. Another black and white mosaic depicts a Nereid riding a Triton, surrounded by various sea creatures. I love mosaic, and I am so glad they have restored it to such perfection.
Excavations in Isthmia were held in 1952 by Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chicago Oscar Broner, under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.
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. Sadly, the new religion of Christianity had forbidden all games by the 4th century CE as well.
The Isthmia Archaeological Museum
Since 1978, there is a small museum with exhibits and collections from the wider Isthmia site area, the Hellenistic Settlement at Rachi, and from Kechries ancient port.
The entrance fee to the site and museum is €2, and it is open daily between 8.30 am – 15.00 (3 pm). Address: 12 Eleftheriou Venizelou st., Kyras Vrysi, 20100 Isthmia. Telephone: +30 2741037244.
Tips for Visiting Ancient Isthmus in Corinth
Is Ancient Isthmia Accessible?
Yes, it is. There is flat access, especially in the Museum
Is there a WC inside the Ancient Isthmia Museum?
Yes, there is, free of charge.
Can I drink or eat inside the Site?
You are not allowed to eat or drink inside any archaeological site in Greece, only water is allowed to carry around. There is no café/restaurant inside the site.
Is there a shop inside the Museum?
Yes, there is a small shop.
Resources for Ancient Isthmia
- Ancient Theatre of Isthmia (Diazoma Site)
- University of Chicago
Sites to Visit Near Isthmia
Isthmia is such an interesting place to visit and right in the middle of many other sites to explore:
Discover 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.
Have a swim in the nearby beautiful Isthmia Beach.
Go to the fascinating Sites of Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth (7,5 km far)
Go to Loutraki seaside town (6,5 km far) with the Mineral Waters, the Casino, and Perachora. (great area for seaside hiking)
Go to the Ancient Port of Kechries where Apostle Paul left for Ephesus in 51 AD.
First time to Corinth? Book an enjoyable full-day tour of the Isthmus Canal, Acrocorinth castle, Ancient Corinth, Ancient Heraion, and Melagkavi Lighthouse with pick-up/drop-off service from your hotel, and a live tour guide.
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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❤️
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