It’s not hard to construct narratives of decline for the paved trans-Isthmus diolkos road. One only has to compare the monument unearthed by N. Verdelis 50 years ago with modern photos of a road sliding into the canal. Indeed, Sophia Loverdou has used the tools of social media to launch a “Save the Diolkos” campaign. She has documented the deterioration of the road by posting dozens of “before” and “after” images of the road since its excavation (see this Facebook page), and marked the ongoing consequences of continuous canal traffic through this Youtube channel.
The differences in the before and after photos really are impressive. The following images come from the Facebook page. The platform at Sector A, for example, has deteriorated significantly even in the last twenty years.
About a third of the road excavated (Sectors B-E) on the Peloponnesian side of the canal has slipped into the canal. I imagine, however, that Sector B is preserved under the sand in the image on the right.
Another glimpse of the part of the road (Sectors C-D) that has fared the worst:
And even the part of the road frequently visited by tourists (Sector G) has largely slipped into the canal.
As a scholar of Late Antiquity, I’m naturally wary of straightforward narratives of decline. Indeed, I was struck by Ferrell Jenkins’ post on the diolkos in early July, which includes his scanned slides from the early 1970s that show the upkeep of the road then was actually a bit worse than it is today (even if its overall preservation was better). The road is covered not only in vegetation (fairly normal of most Greek sites in late spring / early summer) but also in earth. There has also been some effort in recent years to keep things from getting worse. The following images capture some basic techniques (mortar and cement) to prevent the soil under Sector G from eroding further into the canal.
These efforts have been partial, however, and are not likely to match the rate of deterioration. Indeed, it’s the deterioration of the road, caused by episodes of dredging and constant ship traffic, that is the striking and dramatic story here. While Greece’s crisis of economy may make a fix unlikely anytime soon there’s still good reason to join the campaign to save the road. This petition letter, which is addressed to the prime minister of Greece, simply runs:
“We declare ourselves against the mentalities and practices that lead to the destruction of the world’s heritage and we ask the Greek Prime Minister to exercise his authority so that, without any further delays and hypocrisy, the Diolkos is finally saved and restored.”