The port of Athens , Piraeus was the greatest port of the ancient world and remains one of the busiest in the Mediterranean. In a country that derives most of its livelihood from the sea, Piraeus is the true capital, while Athens is a sprawling suburb full of bureaucrats. Still, it’s hard to find much charm in the tall buildings and dusty streets, although Zea Marina and Mikrolimano with their yachts, brightly-lit tavernas and bars are a handsome sight.
Themistocles founded the port of Piraeus in the 5th century BC when Phaliron, Athens ‘ ancient port, could no longer meet the growing needs of the city . The Miletian geometer Hippodamos laid it out in a straight grid of streets that have hardly changed. The centre of action was always the huge central agora, where the world’s first commercial fairs and trade expositions were held. All religions were tolerated, and women were allowed, for the first time, to work outside the home.
As Piraeus was crucial to Athens ‘ power, the conquering Spartans destroyed the Long Walls linking city and port in 404, at the end of the Peloponnesian War. After the 100-year Macedonian occupation and a period of peace, Sulla decimated the city to prevent any anti-Roman resistance, and for 1,900 years Piraeus dwindled away into an insignificant village with a population as low as 20, even losing its name to become Porto Leone. Since the selection of Athens as the capital of independent Greece, Piraeus has regained its former glory as the reigning port of a seagoing nation, but much of it dates from after 1941, when German bombers blew the port sky-high.