The Port of Patras (or Patrai) is the third biggest urban center in Greece and the capital of the Achaea prefecture. Built at the base of Mount Panachaikon in northern Peloponnese, the port is about 175 kilometers west-northwest of Athens. With a history going back 4000 years, Patras was a cosmopolitan city by the time the Roman Empire ruled Greece. Christians believe that Saint Andrew was martyred in the Port of Patras. Sometimes called Greece’s “Gate to the West,” the Port of Patras is an important hub for trade, commerce, and communication with Western Europe.
Each spring, the Patras Carnival, one of Europe’s biggest, brings hundreds of thousands of people to enjoy parades with huge floats and lavish balls. Its mild winters and relatively cool summers make the Port of Patras an inviting tourist attraction. Being a cultural center for performing arts and literature, the European Union designated the Port of Patras the European Capital of Culture in 2006. Over 171 thousand people live in the city proper, and more than 222 thousand people call the Patras metropolitan area home.
Archaeological evidence suggests that humans lived in the area of Patras as early as five thousand years ago. The community grew first during the Mycenaean period from 1580 to 1100 BC. It remained a small farming village until it became an important port during the Roman era around 280 BC.
After Rome occupied Greece in 146 BC, the Port of Patras played an important role. Emperor Augustus established a Roman colony in the area, and it was a Christian center early in the development of that religion. The Port of Patras continued to be an influential city during the Byzantine era. By the 9th Century AD, it was a prosperous city and port with a busy carpet and textile industry.
In 1204, the Port of Patras was conquered by Western European crusaders on their way to Constantinople. It became the capital of the Duchy of Athens. The port became part of the Achaea principality in 1205. In 1387, the town was captured by Juan Fernandez de Heredia, Grand Master of the order of the Knights Hospitaller at Rhodes.
In 1408, Venice took the Port of Patras, placing it under the rule of the archbishop. In 1430, Constantine XI, the last Roman emperor, seized the Port of Patras. Unfortunately, the Ottomans began their claim on the town, and Sultan Mehmet II conquered Patras in 1458. Under Ottoman rule, the town was granted privileges and lower taxes, but it never became an important commercial center. While both Genoa and Venice captured the Port of Patras several times in the 15th and 16th Centuries, they were not able to establish their supremacy.
The Greek Revolution began in the Port of Patras in 1821, but the Ottoman Turks held the Patras citadel until 1828. After Patras was liberated, it quickly became Greece’s second biggest urban center, benefitting from its function as Peloponnese’s main export port for agricultural products. Exports included raisins, cereals, silk, and leather. Patras imported sugar, coffee, and materials for weaving and construction.
Developing rapidly during the early 20th Century, the Port of Patras was the first city in Greece to install electric streetlights and trams. World War I slowed the city’s development, but it also created urban sprawl as refugees from Western Asia flowed into the area. During World War II, the Port of Patras was targeted by Italian bombers, and it was home to the Axis military command for a time.
The Port of Patras holds a strategic location for Mediterranean vessels. It serves over half of all foreign sea-borne transportation in Greece. It is also a center for car-ferry routes with Italy’s Adriatic ports and the Ionian islands.
In the mid-1800s, the Port of Patras recognized the need for a harbor that could accommodate the vessels of the day. In 1836, despite the burdensome expense, the first 35-meter wooden pier was constructed, and it was expanded to 55 meters in 1838. Even with these facilities, the port could not provide a safe harbor. Although a modern port was clearly needed, the municipality could not afford the needed improvements. By 1860, a final plan for the lighthouse and port was completed. Taxes were increased for imported goods to raise the necessary funds to build an artificial harbor.
In 1893, the Corinth Canal was opened, connecting the Aegean Sea with the Ionian islands and reducing the distance between Piraeus and Patras. During the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s, the port was important to migration. Until the first Greek ocean-going passenger line was founded in 1907, Greeks migrating to America depended on foreign steamship lines.
After World War II, traffic through the Port of Patras declined and remained relatively low for another 30 years. In the 1970s, ferry boats started carrying passengers and freight between Greece and Italy through the Port of Patras. Today, over 40 ferries are used for this purpose.