Cenchrea was visited by Paul and his companions after nearly eighteen months of ministry in Corinth, during the Second Mission Journey. The city was a small port located more than two miles south of Isthmia and about six miles east of Corinth. It was constructed along the road from Isthmia that leads south to the so-called “Baths of Helen” of antiquity. Cenchrea functioned as the eastern harbor of the Corinthians for shipping on the Saronic Gulf. Corinth also had another port, Lechaeum, to the west of Corinth on the Corinthian Gulf. Ships were safely guided between the two harbors to avoid the danger of sailing around Cape Malea. As a town frequented by seafarers, Cenchrea was also a sacred town to Poseidon.
Excavations were begun in 1963 by the American School, University of Chicago and Indiana University under the auspices of Professors Scranton and Ramage. The city had not been excavated because it had been a military area until that time. Though extensive excavations still need to be carried on at the site, the port was positively identified by coinage. The coinage depicts the harbor as surrounded by porticoes with a significant storage capacity. Above the site was a Roman period Temple thought to be of Tyche (fortune). On the wide pier that stretched about five hundred feet into the sea, a Temple of Isis and a Piscinae (fish tank) were located. Further away, about half a mile from the harbor was the monument for a “Tomb of Regulus”, the chief patron of the city and first president of the Isthmian games. The tomb was about 20 years old when Paul visited here.
The port has some important New Testament connections, as it was the site of Paul’s completion of a vow, as well as the home of Phoebe (Rom. 16:1,2). Since vows among Jews were often completed with a shaving of the head, it appears that Paul had completed a private vow. Some scholars believe the vow was to remain in Corinth (despite the pagan and degraded surroundings) until God indicated that he should leave.
Excavations also reveal a thriving Byzantine presence. A complex of that period was located including at least two churches. The site appears to have been completely destroyed by two devastating earthquakes, in 365 CE and 375 CE. A small dock and a partially submerged Basilica are all that are easily seen today, though other remains are exposed in bulks on the hill just north of the harbor area.