Ancient Corinth from the Ottoman Empire to the Archaeologists
Amelia R. Brown (Princeton University)
Most modern visitors to Ancient Corinth come to see the ruins, the fenced-off ancient city at the center of a town whose houses, shops and churches were largely built since the 1950s. Only a few roadside shrines and now-crumbling structures still hint at the 19th-century town, a far-different Corinth which once occupied the same basic landscape. The written accounts of Corinthians, European travelers and American archaeologists add depth and color to these physical traces, as do archival photographs and the archaeological excavation of 19th-century remains recently undertaken by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. All this evidence is worth studying for several reasons. First, few if any towns in the Peloponnese boast such rich sources for the 19th century, the era in which Greece emerged as a nation-state, began industrial development and became a mass-market European tourist destination. At Corinth, these external shifts meant the destruction or abandonment of the urban and social fabric of the Ottoman town, the founding of a “modern” city on the coast, and a revolution in agriculture on the plain in between the two. The Grand Tour, Greek nationalism and the growth of classical archaeology also spurred interest in the traces of antiquity, once completely integrated into the Ottoman urban fabric. This interest culminated in the establishment of the large-scale excavations which continue to this day, but which have only sporadically taken account of the town which continues to thrive around them. Though these excavations initially sought only “Ancient” Corinth, today their archives and recent finds alike form a unique testament to the dramatic changes in and since the 19th-century. In this paper, I integrate this disparate source material to reconstruct the cityscape of 19th-century Corinth, both to better understand Corinthian and Peloponnesian history in that era, and to tease out what kinds of continuities do, in fact, exist in every city ever established on the shores of the Corinthian Isthmus.