Pireas City – Piraeus City – in Modern Era
With the creation of the modern Greek state and the proclamation of Athens as the capital in 1832, the port of Piraeus 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 Pireas City. A town plan for Pireas was also drawn up and approved by King Otto, but it was not completely fulfilled , as it was revolutionary for its time. Following the establishment of Pireas as a municipality in 1835 and the petitions from the new prosperous bourgeoisie that was emerging, municipal elections were held to elect a mayor for the city, who was to be Kyriakos Serfiotis from Hydra. Pireas Port numbered around 300 inhabitants at the time.
Pireas, from a deserted small town, quickly became the leading port and the second largest city in Greece, while 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 the Athens-Piraeus Railway in 1869, the industrial development of the area in the 1860s and the creation of the Corinth Canal in 1893, all of 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 Piraeus Port Authority in 1930, which made a more efficient job of managing a port slowly increasing in traffic, played a catalytic role in the city’s 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 decisive for the Greek nation period of 1912–1922, Pireas City experienced a great demographic explosion, with its population almost doubling to reach 251,659 in 1928 from 133,482 in 1920, an increase owed 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. Pireas City is now the third largest municipality in Greece; the city proper with its suburbs form the Piraeus urban area, which is incorporated in the Athens urban area, thus making Pireas an integral part of the Greek capital. Furthermore, the port of Pireas is an important international port and the largest of the country.
Pireas City is situated in the southwest part of the central plain of Attica, which encompasses the Athens agglomeration and is widely known as the Attica Basin. Pireas City is bounded by Mount Egaleo to the northwest, the Saronic Gulf to the south and west, and is connected with the rest of the Athens urban area to the east and northeast. The city proper consists of a rocky peninsula, originally an island, featuring three natural harbours. In addition to the central one, called Kantharos in ancient times, the smaller harbours to the east are still in use, Zea also known as Pasalimani, and Munichia, the smallest of the three and widely known as Mikrolimano. Nowadays, Pireas City larger urban area includes the suburban harbours of Drapetsona, Keratsini and Perama. The central harbor is a hub of commercial and passenger shipping, whereas the two smaller ones cater to recreational and fishing craft as well as passenger hydrofoils.
Among the archaeological sites of Pireas City, parts of the ancient Themistoclean Walls and Eetioneia, a mole in the entrance to the harbour, are still preserved in good condition. Excavations in Pasalimani revealed the Skevotheke, an ancient structure where ship rigging equipment was stored, designed by architect Philon. In Kastella the Syrangion is to be found, which probably served as a sanctuary to the local hero Syrango, and the Cave of Arethusa, both prehistoric. Ruins of the ancient city at the basement of the cathedral of Agia Triada and the ancient Theater of Zea next to the Archaeological Museum, the ancient neosoikoi in Zea, Munichia and Kantharos navy yard, can also be seen.
The city of Pireas is stamped by the diversity of culture among its neighborhoods. The hill of Kastella is one of the most prosperous and attractive neighbourhoods of the city, with a panoramic view over Athens and the Saronic Gulf. It is characteristically elegant due to the numerous neo-classical mansions and luxurious houses, while the Veakeio Theater and a church dedicated to the Prophet Elijah are the most popular buildings.
The coastal area of Neo Faliro has been upgraded and is also prominent with the Peace and Friendship Stadium and the Karaiskakis Stadium, an indoor arena and a football ground respectively lying opposite one another, predominating. Mikrolimano and Pasalimani, the smaller harbours of the city, attract large numbers of visitors because of their picturesqueness and vigorous nightlife, hosting fishing boats as well as yachts and cruise ships. On the other hand, Kaminia is a working class neighbourhood which still preserves the traditional look of past ages. The Municipal Theater in downtown Piraeus was built in 1885 and today is an impressive neo-classical building. Located across the Neo-Byzantine Piraeus Cathedral, it constitutes one of the most renowned landmarks of the city and a popular meeting place.