The Port of Piraeus is a suburb of and the main port for Athens, Greece. Located about eight kilometers from Athens' city center and some 528 nautical miles northwest of the Port of Alexandria in Egypt, the Port of Piraeus surrounds Phaleron Bay. It is the capital of the Piraeus Prefecture and the second biggest municipality in the Athens metropolitan area. In 2001, over 175 thousand people lived in the Port of Piraeus municipality.
The Port of Piraeus is the largest port in Greece and the center of communications for the Greek islands. Rebuilt after World War II, the city has many new factories, primarily in the chemical and engineering industries, and shipyards on its outskirts. The Port of Piraeus has long been Athens' port. Today, it is the busiest passenger port in Europe and the third busiest in the world.
It is believed that people have lived in the area of the Port of Piraeus since the 26th Century BC. At that time, the settlement called Munychia was connected to the mainland by land that was usually flooded. Over the centuries, the low-lying land was silted over, and the floods ended.
The resulting peninsula was fortified by Hippias in the 6th Century BC. The Port of Piraeus immediately became important for its deep-water harbor. It was a subdivision of Attica in the early years of today's Greece. After the Battle of Marathon with the Persians, Athens began to use the Port of Piraeus as a military harbor in the early 4th Century BC. Shipyards were established that created the Athenian fleet that defeated Persian leader Xerxes in the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. It was for this victory that the Spartans defended the pass of Thermopylae in the immortal battle.
Since that ancient battle, the Port of Piraeus has been the base for the Athens fleet in the Aegean Sea. Fortification of the Port of Piraeus was completed during the Athenian Golden Age in 460 BC. The Port of Piraeus was linked to Athens by the Long Walls that maintained the connection during sieges, bringing wealth and a busy commercial life to the port.
As Athens' major military port during the Peloponnesian War that pitted Athens against Sparta. In 404 BC, the Long Walls and most of the port's buildings were destroyed by the Spartans after their victory over Athens. The defeat severely reduced the Port of Piraeus' influence, and Rhodes replaced its commercial role.
The reconstruction of the Port of Piraeus was undertaken during the era of Alexander the Great in the 3rd Century BC. However, when the Roman Empire arrived in 86 BC, Lucius Cornelius Sulla captured and destroyed the Port of Piraeus. The destruction was finished by the Goths in 395 AD, beginning a 15-century decline to the Port of Piraeus, although it was used from time to time by the Byzantine fleet.
The city even lost its historic name. The Port of Piraeus was named Porto Leone in 1318, and the Franks called it Porto Draco after the marble lion that occupied the spot that eventually held the old Town Hall. In 1456 AD, the Port of Piraeus was called Aslan Liman (meaning Lion's Port) by the Turks. In 1688, the marble lion was stolen and taken to Venice, where it remains.
During occupation by the Ottoman Empire, the Port of Piraeus was largely empty and silent. The monastery of Saint Spyridon and a customs house were its only occupied buildings. In 1792, people from Hydra tried unsuccessfully to establish a new town on the site. During the 1820s Greek War of Independence, people from Psara attempted to create a city there in 1825, again without success.
In 1829, people finally began to return to the Port of Piraeus. It was a small town with a few farms and huts that housed mostly fishermen. It had fallen far from its glory days as the port of ancient Athens.
When the modern state of Greece was formed in 1832, and Athens was named its capital, the fortunes of the Port of Piraeus changed dramatically. It quickly became an important commercial and industrial center, attracting people from the Aegean Islands.
In 1835, the Port of Piraeus was recognized as a municipality with a population of about 300. Over the following decades, the Port of Piraeus continued to grow. It was soon the main port and the second biggest city in Greece. Being so near Athens, it attracted people from all over Greece. In 1869, the railway arrived from Athens.
New buildings rose from the dust of the old abandoned port. The Port of Piraeus gained the Town Hall, Central Market, Stock Exchange Building, Post Office Building, churches, and educational institutions. In 1893, the Corinth Canal was completed, connecting the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas to the Gulf of Corinth, further enhancing the Port of Piraeus' strategic importance. During this period, the Port of Piraeus' facilities were improved as well. The Royal Landings, Troumba Pier, and other quays were built, and dredging operations deepened the harbor.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, the Port of Piraeus was home to over 51 thousand people. The Port Committee was formed in 1911 to oversee the construction and maintenance of the Port of Piraeus. In 1930, the Port of Piraeus Authority was established. The port authority played an active part in increasing traffic and developing the Port of Piraeus. By 1920, the population had grown to more than 133 thousand.
In the 1920s, the Port of Piraeus underwent a dramatic population explosion when refugees from the Greco-Turkish War and the population exchange between the two countries brought tens of thousands of new residents. By 1928, over 251 thousand people lived in the Port of Piraeus, creating tremendous stress on the city infrastructure and a huge population of idle laborers.
Greece's involvement in World War II interrupted the Port of Piraeus' development. Under German Nazi occupation from 1939 until 1944, the Port of Piraeus suffered damage as the Germans plundered the country and terrorized its citizens. After the war, repairs began on the port and the city. After the mid-1950s, many new projects expanded and modernized the Port of Piraeus. The first passenger terminal in the Port of Piraeus was completed in 1959. In 1978, the first Container Terminal was begun, to be expanded in 1986. A new cruise passenger terminal was opened in 1992. In 2003, the Port of Piraeus Authority SA was listed on the Stock Market, with the Hellenic State the majority owner (74%).
Today, the Port of Piraeus is a modern, busy port that welcomes some 20 million visitors each year. It was long ago absorbed into the urban area of Athens, and it is no longer a separate city. However, its glorious past is evident in the remains of the Long Walls that line the shore and survive in seaside promenades. Archaeological excavations of the ancient shipyards are yielding valuable information about early shipbuilding and sailing.