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The Port of Piraeus

The Port of Piraeus (PP), lying about 10 kilometers southwest of Athens, Greece, is one of the biggest and most important ports in Europe. Located just 7 km (5 miles) south west of Athens, Piraeus is in fact a limestone peninsula offering natural harbours which the Athenians exploited to create what, at its height in the 5th century BCE, would be the most important port and biggest naval base in the Greek world. The port ‘s location is strategically important because of its proximity to the Aegean Sea, the maritime crossroads between Asia and Europe, and is linked by shipping
routes to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Designed by Greek architect Hippodamus in the 5th century BC, it remained one of the most prosperous ports of Greece and Europe for a long time.

There are many stories about the Port of Piraeus. A vivid description of the bustling port can be found in the writings of Athenian playwright Arisophanes: “People yelled at the crowd around the captain, buying leather goods, belts and jars, or garlic, olive oil, nets of onions, garlands, anchovies. … On the bow of the ship stood a gilded figurehead of the goddess Athena. From below the pier came the sound of hammers hitting pegs, drilling holes, the sound of reed pipes and pan flutes, the racket of sailors and the song of birds.” At that time, PP was hustling and bustling and there
were merchants everywhere. Its prosperity was second to none.

Until the 3rd millennium BC, Piraeus was a rocky island connected to the mainland by a low-lying stretch of land that was flooded with sea water most of the year. It was then that the area was increasingly silted and flooding ceased, thus permanently connecting Piraeus to Attica and forming its ports, the main port of Cantharus and the two smaller of Zea and Munichia. In 493 BC, Themistocles initiated the fortifications of Piraeus and later advised the Athenians to take advantage of its natural harbours strategic potential. In 483 BC, the Athenian fleet left the older harbour of  Phaleron  and it was transferred to Piraeus, distinguishing itself at the battle of Salamis between the Greek city-states and the Persians in 480 BC. In the following years Themistocles initiated the construction of the port and created the ship sheds (neosoikoi), while the  Themistoclean Walls  were completed in 471 BC, turning Piraeus into a great military and commercial harbour, which served as the permanent navy base for the mighty Athenian fleet.

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.
The modern port has been rebuilt since the bombings of World War II. It is the largest in Greece and is the centre of all sea communication between Athens and the Greek islands. Piraeus is also the terminal station for all the main Greek railways and is linked to Athens by electric railway and superhighway. The city has grown considerably since World War II, with many new factories on its outskirts (mainly for the engineering and chemical industries) as well as shipyards. There is a naval academy and an archaeological museum, with statuary and pottery from both the Greek and Roman periods. It is connected to downtown Athens by a light rail system.

 

Πηγές:
wikipedia
www.worldhistory.gr
www.worldportsource.com

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