PIREÁS (Piraeus) has been the port of Athens since Classical times, when the so-called Long Walls, scattered remnants of which can still be seen, were built to connect it to the city. Today it’s a substantial metropolis in its own right. The port and its island ferries are the reason most people come here; if you’re spending any time, though, the real attractions of the place are around the small-boat harbours of Zéa Marina and Mikrolímano on the opposite side of the small peninsula. Here, the upscale residential areas are alive with attractive waterfront cafés, bars and restaurants offering some of the best seafood in town, and there’s an excellent archeological museum.
The port at Pireás was founded at the beginning of the fifth century BC by Themistocles, who realized the potential of its three natural harbours. His work was consolidated by Pericles with the building of the Long Walls to protect the corridor to Athens, and the port remained active under Roman and Macedonian rulers. Subsequently, under Turkish control, the place declined to the extent that there was just one building here, a monastery, by the end of the War of Independence. From the 1830s on, though, Pireás grew by leaps and bounds. By World War I, Pireás had become the nation’s predominant port, its strategic position enhanced by the opening of the Suez and Corinth canals in 1862 and 1893 respectively. Like Athens itself, the port’s great period of expansion began in 1923, with the exchange of populations with Turkey. Over 100,000 Asia Minor Greeks decided to settle in Pireás, doubling the population almost overnight – and giving a boost to a pre-existing semi-underworld culture, whose enduring legacy was rembétika, outcasts’ music played in hashish dens along the waterside.