Brief history

Salamina. Its natural bays accommodated the ships of the first inhabitants of Attica, and when the islet merged with the mainland and turned into its peninsula, then the bays became the harbors of Athens.

From this point onwards, Piraeus will join its fate with that of Athens. During the Classical Period, it became the base of the Athenian democracy towards its commercial, political and cultural dominance in the world of classical antiquity.

The natural harbor of Zea (Pasalimani) was the central naval station of ancient Athens, as evidenced by the present-day remnants of ancient shipyards. The port of Mounichia (Mikrolimano) was also a naval station and base of the two Athenian sacred ships. The necessary naval buildings (dockyards, ancient shipyards), as well as all the related buildings for private and public use, were placed in the area of ​​the two ports, following a rationalistic way of development. In the place of today’s central port was the ancient commercial port, Emporion (that’s what the ancients called the part of the ports that was intended to serve commercial purposes).

The great commercial activity of the ancient port attracted a large population of foreign merchants (residents), whose presence gave Piraeus a special “cosmopolitan” character, in contrast to the more conservative society of Athens. This reflected more generally in the political and cultural attitudes of the ancient Piraeus population. The destruction of Piraeus by the Romans in 86 BC and the decline of Athens as a center of political or cultural importance turned Piraeus into an insignificant town and its port into a regional port of rudimentary commercial activity and fishermen.

During the struggle for independence (19th century), Piraeus became a field of great battles between the Greeks and the Turks. The national independence in 1824 and the promotion of Athens as the capital of the newly established state in 1834 turned Piraeus into a major port of the country. The second half of the 19th century is a period of unique residential, economic and social development of Piraeus: in addition to being a large port, the city developed in an organized manner (the urban development plan of Piraeus was drawn up by the architects Stamatis Kleanthis and Eduard Schaubert in 1834, one year later than the urban plan that they had just submitted for the historic center of Athens – a plan that was not implemented and was subsequently modified by Leo von Klenze) with remarkable architecture: public utility buildings, residences, and later grandiose mansions, shops, offices, craft industries, factories, hotels, etc. make up the architectural character of the city. Piraeus gradually developed into the major industrial center of the country. Its population growth is explosive, as thousands of internal migrants flock to its newly formed neighborhoods in search of economic opportunities.

In 1922, waves of refugees from Asia Minor Hellenism will double the population of Piraeus: thousands of new residents, of high social and intellectual wealth, gathered in the area. Piraeus was now the most dynamic society of the new state. The destruction of the port by the Germans in 1941 during the Second World War, its bombing by the Allies in 1944 and the civil conflicts that followed the liberation put a temporary end to this development.

From the 1950s onwards, Piraeus experienced a new development, unfortunately sprawling and with significant consequences for the natural and residential environment of the beautiful port and the city, which before the war was one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. Despite this, today’s Piraeus, a modern commercial, shipping and industrial center, carries a remarkable historical, social and cultural load, through which it still thrills the modern-day visitor.