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A few words about Piraeus:
Piraeus, or Peiraeus (Greek: ΠΕΙΡΑΙΑΣ)
is a city in the periphery of Attica, Greece, located south of Athens. It is
the capital of the Piraeus Prefecture. It was the port of the ancient city of
Athens (see History of Athens), and was chosen to serve as the modern port
when Athens was re-founded in 1834. Piraeus remains a major shipping and
industrial centre, and is the terminus for Line 1 (the "green line"), the
electric train service now incorporated into the Athens Metro.
The population of the demos (municipality) of Piraeus (Δήμος Πειραιώς) is
175,697 (2001). The nomarchia of Piraeus, which includes the surrounding land
and some of the islands of the Saronic Gulf, has a population of 541,504
(2001). It consists of a rocky promontory, containing three natural harbours,
a large one on the north-west which is an important commercial harbour for the
eastern Mediterranean Sea, and two smaller ones, Zea and Mikrolimano, used for
naval purposes. The port serves ferry routes to almost every island in the
eastern portion of Greece, the island of Crete, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese,
and much of the northern and the eastern Aegean. The western part of the port
is used for cargo services and covers a huge area. Much of that part of the
harbour is in suburban Drapetsona and Keratsini.
The name Piraeus roughly means "the place over the passage". In very early
antiquity Piraeus was a rocky island (the settlement of Mounichia--the present
Kastella) connected to the mainland by a low-lying stretch of land that was
flooded with sea water most of the year and was used as a salt field whenever
it dried up. Consequently it was called the "Halipedon" (salt field) and its
muddy soil made it a tricky passage. The area was increasingly silted and
flooding ceased, and by early classical times the land passage was made safe.
It was then that Piraeus assumed its importance as a deep water harbor, and
the older, shallow Phaleron harbor fell into gradual disuse.
Themistocles was the first to urge the Athenians to take advantage of these
harbours, instead of using the sandy bay of Phaleron. Foreseeing a new attack
by the Persians -after the Battle of Marathon- he built large fortification
works and turned Piraeus into a military harbor in 493 BC. The shipyards that
were created then, built the mighty Athenian fleet, which distinguished itself
at the Battle of Salamis.
In 460 BC the fortifications were completed by Kimon and Pericles when Piraeus
was connected with Athens by the Long Walls. The original town of Piraeus was
planned by the architect Hippodamus of Miletus in the famous grid system that
he devised, probably in the time of Pericles. The main agora was named after
him, as an honor.
During the Peloponnesian Wars, Piraeus was the major Athenian port. In 404 BC
Munychia was seized by Thrasybulus and the exiles from Phyle, who then
defeated the Thirty Tyrants in Athens. The three chief arsenals of Piraeus
were Munychia, Zea and Cantharus, which could contain 82, 196 and 94 ships
respectively in the 4th century BC. Piraeus, as a port, would follow the fate
of Athens. After the end of the Peloponnesian Wars, when Athens came under
Spartan occupation, Piraeus was to bear the brunt of the victors' rage. The
walls would be torn down, the triremes found in the harbor surrendered to the
Spartans or burned, while the renowned neosoikoi ("ships' houses") would be
pulled down and indeed in an almost festive manner-with music, dancing and
After the reinstatement of democracy, Konon rebuilt the walls in 393 BC,
funded the temples of Aphrodite Euploia, the sanctuary of Zeus Sotiros and
Athena, and built the famous Skevothiki of Philon, the ruins of which have
been discovered at Zea. This revival of the town was quashed by the Roman
Sulla who captured Piraeus in 86 BC. The destruction was completed in 395 AD
by the Goths under Alaric. During the Byzantine period the harbor of Piraeus
was used at various intervals, but it was very far from the capital,
Constantinople. During the Turkish occupation, Piraeus was deserted. There was
only the customs house and the monastery of St. Spyridonas.
With the creation of the modern Greek state and the proclamation of Athens as
the capital in 1832, the port again acquired a reason for existence and growth
and developed into a great commercial and industrial center. The town
flourished and lovely buildings were constructed. One of them, which continues
to ornament the present town, is the Municipal Theater, an excellent example
of neoclassical architecture. Today, Piraeus is the third largest city in
Greece and the largest port in the country.
Large parts of the Themistoclean Walls around the shoreline survive in very
good condition to this day, and are incorporated in seaside promenades.
Remnants of the neosoikoi, where the triremes were kept in wintertime, were
also excavated and valuable information about ancient shipbuilding and sailing
was obtained by their study.
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