Piraeus has been the port of Athens since classical times, when Themistocles transferred his Athenian fleet from the exposed port of Phaleron (modern Faliro) to the security of Piraeus. After his victory over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC, Themistocles fortified Piraeus’ three natural harbours. In 445 BC Pericles extended these fortifying walls to Athens and Phaleron. The Long Walls, as they were known, were destroyed as one of the peace conditions imposed by the Spartans at the end of the Peloponnesian Wars, but were rebuilt in 394 BC.
Piraeus was a flourishing commercial centre during the classical age, but by Roman times it had been overtaken by Rhodes, Delos and Alexandria. During medieval and Turkish times, Piraeus diminished into a tiny fishing village, and by the time Greece became independent, it was home to fewer than 20 people.
Its resurgence began in 1834 when Athens became the capital of independent Greece and by the beginning of the 20th century, it had superseded the island of Syros as Greece’s principal port. In 1923 its population swelled with the arrival of 100, 000 Greek refugees from Turkey. The Piraeus that evolved from this influx had a seedy but somewhat romantic appeal with its bordellos, hashish dens and rembetika music – all vividly portrayed in the film Never on a Sunday (1960).