The historical development of Piraeus is inextricably connected with that of Athens as well as the history of two cities. Thanks to its three harbors, Piraeus was the port of Athens since antiquity. It flourished during the Classical and Hellenistic times, while since Roman times it began to decline and during the Byzantine period, the Frankish and the Turkish Occupation it was almost an insignificant port. However, after the establishment of the new Greek state and the transfer of the capital to Athens, its development was impressive. Following its development, Piraeus attracted many immigrants. They are not random the names that have some of the districts, such as Hydreika or Maniatika. The arrival of refugees to Greece from Asia Minor after the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922, many of whom settled in the area of Piraeus, gave a big boost in its economic development.
It is widely known that the name “Peiraiefs” comes from the word “peran”, in the sense of distant or opposite land. According to others the name comes from the word “diaperan” or “peran reo” and the verb “peraio”, which means ferry someone to the other side, because in ancient times there was a marshy area in between the two lands, the so called "alipedon", in the area where Faliro is located today. But as the geological researches have shown, Piraeus was actually an island. It was united with the coast of Attica during the Quaternary Period, due to the siltation of the river Kifisos where today Moschato and Faliron Delta are situated
The first inhabitants of the region are considered Minians, people that came from Boeotia. Minians left their homeland, the region of Orchomenos, because of invasions by Thracian tribes. According to those mentioned by Euripides in his work Hippolytus, Minians finally reached the hill of Castella which they fortified and named Munichia in honour of their hero and king Mounichos. In historical times, Piraeus was first mentioned in 510 BC in texts referring on the reforms of Cleisthenes. The administrative division of the Athens city state in 10 tribes and 176 municipalities included Piraeus as the seat of the Ippothontida municipality.
THE ANCIENT WALLS
Themistocles was the first to realize the strategic position of Piraeus with the three natural harbors and in 493 BC, when he was elected archon of Athens, he started the first major port and fortification works in the region. Thus in 470 BC the length of the walls of Piraeus exceeded 11km. Its main port is divided into commercial and military, which can accommodate up to 400 boats. It was located between the central harbor and Miaouli coast and it was called Kantharos. The entrance from the sea was protected by two large towers leaving between them only a small passage, which was closed every evening with thick chain for security reasons. The harbor of Kantharos was responsible for the export trade of Athens as well. The main products traded were wine, olive oil, honey, pottery and metals from the mines of Laurium.
THE HIPPODAMUS AGORA
The famous Hippodamus Agora was built on the place that separates the present main port of Piraeus and that of Zea during the classical period in 460 BC. It was rather a normal consequence since in its heyday Piraeus has gathered a considerable military and commercial power. The Hippodamus Market exclusively addressed to local citizens and constituted the posh market of the city, since there was another market at the port of Kantharos, which was crowded by foreigners, sailors, gamblers and all those social groups that render a notorious harbor neighborhood. The name of the market came from its designer, the architect Hippodamus of Miletus, who established the homonymous urban planning system, which was based in developing parallel roads that intersect in right angles in order to create building blocks and squares. The Hippodamus Market was decorated by magnificent public buildings, such as the Temple of Hestia, the Agoranomeion, the Bouleuterion and the Scolarcheio. Today, on Trikoupi, 2nd Merarchias and Sotiros streets, where the market was located, nothing remains to reveal the glory of the past...
In Piraeus, except from the few archaeological sites, nothing reveals the so important parallel history of the area in contrast with Athens where so many monuments of the past are preserved. In 1676 the travelers Spon and Wheler wrote in their travel notes: “there is nothing now remaining of the city of Piraeus, neither of those beautiful arcades mentioned by Pausanias.” In the same spirit and the impressions he had the French politician, traveler and writer Chateubriand, in 1806. However, there is an explanation for everything. And in this case history itself gives the answer. At the period during which the Romans were fighting against the Hellenized king of Pontus Mithridates, Athenians sided with the latter. Thus, in 86 BC the legions of the Roman general Sulla, having defeated the army of Mithridates and his allies, disembarked at the port of Piraeus and destroyed the entire port infrastructure. The numerous monuments of Piraeus didn’t manage to escape from the fury of the Romans. The walls of Conon and Themistocles, the Long Walls that connected Athens to Piraeus, the arcades, the temples, the shipsheds, the Arsenal of Philon, the Hippodamus Market all ended up a mass of rubble. After this disaster, Piraeus lost its role as a super-secure port and it remained unfortified at the mercy of any pirate of the sea and every barbarian invasions from the land. In 267 AD Goths-Heruli looted the city for many weeks, while a century later, in 395 AD, the Visigoths of Alaric A’ left no stone on stone. The centuries passed without Piraeus being able to recover effectively. During Byzantine and Ottoman periods, Piraeus was known under the name Dragon Porto and Porto Leone. The name Porto Leone, namely Port of Lion, appears in a nautical map of Genovese Peter Visconti in 1318 and it came after the known Lion of Piraeus, a marble lion which was located near the entrance of the harbor.
In 1834, after the liberation, the capital of the newly established Greek state was transferred from Nafplio to Athens and a new blooming season begins for Piraeus, as the new capital would be worthy of a port. So in the years that followed, Piraeus experienced significant demographic, residential, commercial and industrial development. In the early 20th century, having become a center of internal migration, it attracts people from the islands of the Saronic Gulf, Cyclades, Chios, Crete and Mani. The development follows the upgrading of infrastructure as well. Permanent tanks were constructed in Ietioneia coast and the wonderful Municipal Theatre of Piraeus was built. The Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922 and the uprooting of Hellenism of Asia Minor had as a result Piraeus to accept a large number of refugees. The factories acquired new, skilled and cheap labor force and the population doubled. But what matters most is that the refugees contributed substantially to the formation of the cultural character of the city. The last adventure of Piraeus was the World War II, during which the port was bombarded repeatedly. The end of the war meant the beginning of the reconstruction of the city, which in combination with the significant Greek shipping activity and its emergence as a global power after the war, transformed Piraeus into the largest port of Eastern Mediterranean coast.