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Monday, May 29, 2017

Piraeus

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on September 9, 2014

One of Europe’s most significant ports

The port city of Piraeus is located on the Saronic Gulf at the southwest end of the Attica Plain, seven miles from Greece’s capital of Athens.  Its population of 164,000 makes Piraeus the fourth largest city in the country, but this belies its importance as the region’s busiest seaport.  It has about 30,000 vessel arrivals annually, handling about 25,000 passengers, 25 million tonnes of cargo, and 1.7 million TEU of containers.  The port of Piraeus has a long history and is now experiencing its second golden age.  It started out as a rocky island connected to the mainland intermittently by a tidal marsh.  Excavations show that it has been inhabited for about 4,600 years.  Through the centuries, the marshland was filled in and the connection to the mainland became permanent.  It wasn’t until about 500 BC, though, the area was fortified and Piraeus became the chief port of the mighty Athenian fleet.  Themistocles had neosoikoi (literally ship houses) constructed in harbor for the building and maintenance of the fleet, which consisted largely of triremes.  Athens, through its Piraeus-based fleet, became one of the powerhouses of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.  The other powerhouse and its principal rival was Sparta.  When the two came into conflict and Sparta laid siege, the Long Walls were constructed, connecting Athens and Piraeus.  Sparta and its allies were never able to militarily breach the Long Walls.  Eventually, though, plague broke out in the besieged city-state and the Athenian empire surrendered.  The triremes were set ablaze and Athens and Piraeus were left in ruins, ending the first golden age.  The port was partially revived as part of the Roman Empire.  It was during this period that nine-foot high marble statute known as the Piraeus Lion was carved and erected in the port.  During the Ottoman period, the city was called the Asian Liman (Lion’s Port) due to the prominence of this statute.  The Venetians referred to the city as Porto Leone (the Lion’s Port).  During a Venetian raid in 1687 led by Francesco Morosini, the statute was stolen as a war prize and taken to Venice.  It stands today in the Venetian Arsenal.  When Athens was declared the capital of the newly independent Greece, the port of Piraeus regained some economic strength, but it wasn’t until after World War II that Piraeus entered its second golden age.  Greece was being rebuilt and Greek citizens bought up numerous surplus cargo vessels.  Greek shipowners, based in Piraeus, soon controlled one of the world’s largest commercial fleets.  Piraeus is home to the Hellenic Maritime Museum and the museum ship the former Royal Hellenic Navy armored cruiser Georgios Averof.

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