New archaeological excavations at the ancient port of Corinth have uncovered evidence of large-scale, ancient Roman engineering. Named Lechaion, the port was one of a pair that connected the city of ancient Corinth to Mediterranean trade networks. Lechaion is located on the Gulf of Corinth, while Kenchreai is positioned across the narrow Isthmus of Corinth on the Aegean Sea. These two strategic harbours made Corinth a classical period power, but the Romans destroyed the city in 146 BC when conquering Greece. Julius Caesar rebuilt the city and its harbours in 44 BC, ushering in several centuries of prosperity. Recent excavations by the Lechaion Harbour Project have revealed the impressive engineering of the Roman Empire.
Caesar’s Corinthian colony developed into one of the most important ports in the eastern Mediterranean. Ships filled Lechaion with international goods and Corinth became so well known for luxury and vice that a Greek proverb stated, “not everyone can afford to go to Corinth.” However, while ancient coins depict a formidable harbour with a large lighthouse, visible remains of Lechaion are scarce. Visitors to the coastline today can see the foundations of two large structures forming the outer harbour, but otherwise the remains are buried under centuries of sediment. The excavations are beginning to reveal the secrets of this largely forgotten port.
The team has found a complex harbour that changed over time. In the 1st century AD, Lechaion had a large outer harbour of 40,000 square meters and an inner harbour of 24,500 square meters. The basins, as well as the approach to the harbour, were delineated by large moles and quays constructed of stone blocks weighing five tons each, including one mole that is 45 metres in length and 18 metres wide. A number of monumental buildings once graced Lechaion, such as a lighthouse that is depicted on coins and a monumental structure on an island in the middle of the inner basin. The island monument remains a mystery, but archaeologists speculate that it could be a religious sanctuary, the base of a large statue, or a customs office. However, the island was used for only a brief period.
Credit : Peter B Campbell for www.theguardian.com | Photo : Vassilis Tsiairis/Lechaion Harbour Project