The gulf of Corinth is a very beautiful and narrow fiord, with chains of mountains on either side, through the gaps of which you can see far into the Morea on one side, and into Northern Greece on the other. But the bays or harbors on either coast are few, and so there was no city able to wrest the commerce of these waters from old Corinth, which held the keys by land of the whole Peloponnesus, and commanded the passage from sea to sea. It is, indeed, wonderful how Corinth did not acquire and maintain the first position in Greece.
But as soon as the greater powers of Greece decayed and fell away, we find Corinth immediately taking the highest position in wealth, and even in importance. The capture of Corinth, in 146 B.C., marks the Roman conquest of all Greece, and the art-treasures carried to Rome seem to have been as great and various as those which even Athens could have produced. No sooner had Julius Caesar restored and rebuilt the ruined city, than it sprang at once again into importance, and among the societies addrest in the Epistles of St. Paul, none seems to have lived in greater wealth or luxury. It was, in fact, well-nigh impossible that Corinth should die. Nature had marked out her site as one of the great thoroughfares of the old world; and it was not till after centuries of blighting misrule by the wretehed Turks that she sank into the hopeless decay from which not even another Julius Caesar could rescue her.
The traveler who expects to find any sufficient traces of the city of Periander and of Timoleon, and, I may say, of St. Paul, will be grievously disappointed. In the middle of the wretched straggling modern village there stand up seven enormous rough stone pillars of the Doric Order, evidently of the oldest and heaviest type; and these are the only visible relic of the ancient city, looking altogether out of place, and almost as if they had come there by mistake. These pillars, tho insufficient to admit of our reconstructing the temple, are in themselves profoundly interesting. Their shaft up to the capital is of one block, about twenty-one feet high and six feet in diameter. It is to be observed, that over these gigantic monoliths the architravc, in which other Greek temples show the largest blocks, is not in one piece, but two, and made of beams laid together longitudinally. The length of the shafts (up to the neck of the capital) measures about four times their diameter, on the photograph which I possess; I do not suppose that any other Doric pillar known to us is so stout and short.
Straight over the site of the town is the great rock known as the Acro-Corinthus. A winding path leads up on the southwest side to the Turkish drawbridge and gate, which are now deserted and open; nor is there a single guard or soldier to watch a spot once the coveted prize of contending empires. In the days of the Achaen League it was called one of the fetters of Greece, and indeed it requires no military experience to see the extraordinary importance of the place.
Next to the view from the heights of Parnassus, I suppose the view from this citadel is held the finest in Greece. I speak here of the large and diverse views to be obtained from mountain heights. To me, personally, such a view as that from the promontory of Sunium, or, above all, from the harbor of Nauplia, exceeds in beauty and interest any bird’s-eye prospect. Any one who looks at the map of Greece will see how the Acro-Corinthus commands coasts, islands, and bays. The day was too hazy when we stood there to let us measure the real limits of the view, and I can not say how near to Mount Olympus the eye may reach in a suitable atmosphere. But a host of islands, the southern coasts of Attica and Boeotia, the Acropolis of Athens, Salamis and AEgina, Helicon and Parnassus, and endless AEtolian peaks were visible in one direction; while, as we turned round, all the waving reaches of Arcadia and Argolis, down to the approaches toward Mantinea and Karytena, lay stretched out before us. The plain of Argos, and the sea at that side, are hidden by the mountains. But without going into detail, this much may be said, that if a man wants to realize the features of these coasts, which he has long studied on maps, half an hour’s walk about the top of this rock will give him a geographical insight which no years of study could attain.