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[pahy-ree-uhs, pi-rey-]

Piraeus (, piɾeˈas, , piɾeˈefs) is a city in the periphery of Attica, Greece, and a suburb located 9 km to the south-west of the center of Athens. It is the capital of the Piraeus Prefecture and belongs to the Athens urban area, being the second most populous municipality of the Greek capital, following the Athens municipality. It was the port of the ancient city of Athens and was chosen to serve as the modern port when the city re-emerged in 1834. Piraeus is the largest port in Europe and the third largest in the world in terms of passenger transportation, servicing 19,000,000 passengers annually. The Piraeus station is the terminus of Line 1 (the "green line"), the electric train service now incorporated into the Athens Metro. The uninhabited island of Psyttaleia is also within municipal limits.

The population of the municipality of Piraeus is 175,697 (2001). The prefecture of Piraeus, which includes the surrounding land and some of the islands of the Saronic Gulf, has a population of 541,504 (2001).


Ancient times

Piraeus has been inhabited since the 26th century BC. The name Piraeus roughly means the place over the passage. In very early antiquity Piraeus was a rocky island (the settlement of Munychia - 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, in the late 6th century BC when the peninsula was first fortified by Hippias, that Piraeus assumed its importance as a deep water harbour, and the older, shallow Phaleron harbour fell into gradual disuse.

In Ancient Greece, Piraeus was a deme of Attica since the period of Cleisthenes, and a separate city from Athens, though closely related. Themistocles was the first to advise the Athenians to take advantage of Piraeus harbours' strategical potential, 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 480 BC. Since then, Piraeus has been used as a navy base for the developed and powerful fleet of Athens in the Aegean Sea. The fortifications were completed by Cimon in 460 BC and Pericles during the Athenian Golden Age, when Piraeus was connected with Athens by the Long Walls reaching its biggest splendor, and the Themistoclean Walls were completed. As a result Piraeus flourished and became a port of high security with a great commercial activity, and a city throbbing with life. 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 War, Piraeus was the major Athenian port and suffered the first breakdown. As a result Piraeus was not able to compete with prosperous Rhodes, which controlled the commerce. In 404 BC, Munychia was seized by Thrasybulus and the exiles from Phyle, in the Battle of Munychia, the Phyleans defeated the Thirty Tyrants of Athens, but in the following Battle of Piraeus in 403 BC, the exiles were defeated. 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 War, when Athens came under Spartan occupation, Piraeus was to bear the brunt of the victors' rage. These walls would be torn down, the triremes found in the harbor surrendered to the Spartans or were burned, while the renowned neosoikoi ("ships' houses") would be pulled down and indeed in an almost festive manner-with music, dancing and songs.

After the reinstatement of democracy, Conon rebuilt the walls in 393 BC, founded 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. The reconstruction of Piraeus went on during the period of Alexander the Great, but this revival of the town was quashed by the Roman Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who captured and totally destroyed Piraeus in 86 BC. The destruction was completed in 395 AD by the Goths under Alaric I. Piraeus was led to a long period of decline which lasted for fifteen centuries. During the Byzantine period the harbour of Piraeus was occasionally used for the Byzantine fleet, but it was very far from the capital, Constantinople. The city lost even its ancient and original name that was forgotten, named "Porto Leone'' (Lion's Port) in 1318 and "Porto Draco" by the Franks, taking its name from the marble lion standing at the point at which, later, the old Town Hall was built.

Ottoman period

In 1456, Piraeus became known as the "Aslan Liman" (Lion's Port) of the Turks. The marble lion was removed and stolen in 1688, during Francesco Morozini's expedition against Athens, and carried to the Arsenal of Venice, where it still stands today. A copy of the lion statue is on display at the Piraeus Archaeological Museum. Throughout Ottoman occupation, especially before the beginning of the Greek War of Independence, Piraeus was mostly deserted, except for the monastery of Saint Spyridon (1590) and a customs house, and it was only used for small intervals for commercial issues. Although there were numerous land owners, Athenians did not live in the area.

There were at least two failed attempts to create a new town, the first in 1792 by bringing population from Hydra, and the second during the Greek War of Independence in 1825 by the installation of people from Psara, but it was not until 1829, when permanent inhabitation of the area was restarted. So, Piraeus became a small town with huts and a few farm-buildings, far away from its glorious past as a prosperous city, and its population consisted mainly by fishermen.

Modern Greek state

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 centre; populations, mainly from the Aegean Islands, continued arriving to reside in Piraeus. A town plan for Piraeus was also drawn up and approved by King Othon, but it was not completely fulfilled , as it was revolutionary for its time. Following the establishment of Piraeus as a municipality in 1835, following petitions from the new prosperous bourgeoisie that was being created, municipal elections were held to elect a new mayor for the city. Piraeus' first mayor was Kyriakos Serfiotis from Hydra , and the city supported about 300 inhabitants at this time.

Piraeus, from a deserted small town, quickly became the leading port and the second largest city in Greece, and its prime geographical location and closeness to the Greek capital helped it continually to grow, attracting people from across the country. A number of events contributed to the development of the city ; amongst these were its ultimate declaration as the leading port of Greece, the completion of a railway connecting it with Athens in 1869, the industrial development of the area in the 1860s and the creation of the Corinth Canal in 1893, which left Piraeus more strategically important than ever. New buildings were constructed to cover the necessities of this growth, such as educational institutions, churches, the Stock Exchange Building, the Town Hall, the Central Market, the Post Office Building, and charity institutions ; the port was also supplemented and modernised , with dredging operations, the construction of the Royal Landing, the Troumba Pier and the quay-ways up to the Customs House area, the commencement of construction work on the Outer Moles and the completion of permanent dry-docks. At the end of the 19th century Piraeus had a population of 51,020 people.

The establishment of the Port Committee in 1911, which controlled the works of construction and maintenance of the port, and the Port of Piraeus Authority in 1930, which made a more efficient job of managing a port slowly increasing in traffic, played a catalytic role in its development. The town flourished and neo-classical buildings were erected; one of them, which continues to ornament the present town, still stands as the Municipal Theatre, an excellent example of the area's once wider neoclassical architecture. After the 1912- 1922 period, which was decisive for the nation, Piraeus experienced a great demographic explosion, with its population almost doubling to reach 251,659 in 1928 from 133,482 in 1920, owing to the arrival of Greek refugees from Asia Minor after the Greco-Turkish War and the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Although there was an increase in the labour force, a variety of social problems also emerged with the concentration of new populations in the suburbs of the old city, such as Nikaia, Keratsini, Drapetsona and Korydallos.

However, the involvement of Greece in World War II came as a major setback to the city's progress. After the war the city began to develop once more, as damage to the port and the city were repaired, and new additions took shape after 1955. Piraeus is now the third largest municipality in Greece and the largest port in the country ; it has been absorbed into Athens urban area and no longer constitutes a separate city . 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.


The area consists of a rocky promontory, containing three natural harbours: a large one on the north-west which functions as an important commercial harbour for the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and two smaller points, Zea and Mikrolimano. The western part of the port covers a huge area, with much of that part of the harbour lying in suburban Drapetsona and Keratsini.

Greek Maritime Industry

In addition to being the largest marine - based shipping centre of Greece, Piraeus is also the commercial hub of Greek shipping, with most of Greece's shipowners basing their commercial operations there, largely centred around the street Akti Miaouli. In its capacities as host to Greek shipping, Piraeus has been affected significantly by the various governments of Greece. Following World War II, the Greek government attempted to nationalize the proceeds of the insurance payments given to Greek shipowners who had lost vessels as a result of those vessels having been commandered by the Allied Forces; the insurance had been provided by Lloyd's of London and guaranteed by the coalition of the allied forces. Although the Greek shipowners ultimately won their case against the Greek government in the British courts, most were uninterested in continuing to base their headquarters in Piraeus both out of distrust of the Greek government and the fact that the war had left the greater Athens area in a state of severe poverty. As a result, the Greek shipowners left Piraeus en masse in favor of operations in London, New York, Alexandria and other major shipping cities.

1967 Military junta

In 1967, when a group of colonels staged a coup d'état against the government, in order to increase desperately needed revenues, the junta offered lavish incentives for Greek shipowners to bring their companies back to Piraeus. This included both tax incentives and other inducements, as evidenced by the fact that Aristotle Onassis was allowed to purchase the entire island of Skorpios, which otherwise would have been a violation of Greek coastline laws.

1974 democratic government

After the junta fell in 1974, the successive democratic government generally maintained the deregulation of Greek-based shipping, and many shipowners have maintained commercial operations there since. Today, however, as a result of traffic congestion plaguing the Athens area, and the fact that most shipowners reside in the lavish northern suburbs of Athens, many shipowners have opted once again to move their bases away from Piraeus to Northern Athens.

Shipping today

Piraeus, nevertheless, is still a major centre for Greek and international shipping, and bi-annually it acts as the focus for a major shipping convention, known as Posidonia, which attracts maritime industry professionals from all over the world. Nowadays, Piraeus is one of the largest ports in Europe, and the annual number of 19 million passengers makes it the third largest worldwide, in terms of passenger transportation. Piraeus is also 47th worldwide in cargo traffic and at the top of all eastern Mediterranean ports. The central 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 Sea, while the western part of the port is used for cargo services.

The following operators serve the Port:

  • Minoan Lines
  • ANEK Lines
  • Blue Star Ferries
  • GA Ferries
  • NEL Lines
  • LANE Lines
  • Aegean Speed Lines
  • Hellenic Sea Ways


Piraeus is the western part of the Athens coastal zone. In this area, the hill of Castella is attractive to visitors ; one of the most prosperous neighbourhoods of Piraeus, it maintains a unique view over Athens and the Saronic Gulf. Elsewhere, Kaminia is a beautiful working-class neighbourhood, which is widely known for the strong support its residents provide the most successful club of Piraeus with, Olympiacos. One of the most renowned attractions in Piraeus is the Municipal Theatre (Δημοτικό Θέατρο), a magnificent neo-classical building. In addition to these, Peace and Friendship Stadium and Karaiskákis Stadium, an indoor arena and a football venue respectively, home of Olympiacos basketball and football departments, are of the most impressive Greek stadiums, lying opposite one another in the Neo Faliro area. Mikrolimano and Pasalimani (Zea) are the smaller harbours, which are touristy and attract large numbers during the day.

Among the archeological sites of Piraeus, parts of the ancient Themistoclean Walls are still preserved in good condition, while there are ruins of the main gate to the Long Walls. Excavations in Pasalimani revealed the skevothiki, an ancient structure where ship's equipment was stored, designed by the architect Philon. In Castella, the Syrangio is to be found, which probably served as a sanctuary to the local hero Syranga, and the Cave of Arethusa, both of the Minoan Age. Ruins of the ancient city at the basement of the cathedral of Agia Triada and the ancient neosoikoi in Zea and Cantharus navy yard, can be seen. The Archeological Museum of Piraeus, along with the Maritime Museum, reveal the glorious history of the city.


Piraeus is one of the various municipal authorities of the Athens urban area, located at the south-western end of its reach. Six other municipal authorities comprise what is the urban district of Piraeus (areas that in the past were part of the municipal area of Piraeus but now are self-governed at the local level): Nikaia, Korydallos, Keratsini, Perama, Drapetsona and Rentis. The total population of the seven municipal regions is 466,065 (2001), a part of the total population of the Athens conurbation which is 3,130,841 (2001).

Year Municipal population Change Density
1981 196,389 - 18,075.4/km²
1991 182,671 -13,718/-6.99% 16,812.8/km²
2001 175,697 -6,974/-3.82% 16,170.9/km²

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