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Piraeus is the largest port in Europe and the third largest in the world in terms of passenger transportation, servicing 19,000,000 passengers annually. It is also the terminus for Line 1 of the electric train service now incorporated into the Athens Metro.
Piraeus has been inhabited since about 2600 BC.
The name Piraeus roughly means the place over the passage. In very early antiquity Piraeus was a rocky island (the settlement of Munichia - the present Kastella) connected to the mainland by a low-lying stretch of land that was flooded with seawater most of the year and was used as a salt field whenever it dried up. The area was increasingly silted and flooding ceased and by early classical times the land passage was made safe. It was then that Piraeus assumed its importance as a deep water harbour and the older, shallower Faliron harbour fell into gradual disuse.
Themistocles was the first to urge the Athenians to take advantage of these harbours instead of using the sandy bay of Faliron. The fortification walls and shipyards were created around 493 BC. Large parts of the Themistoclean Walls around the shoreline survive in very good condition to this day and are incorporated in the seaside promenades. The original town of Piraeus was planned by the architect Hippodamus of Miletus in the famous grid system that he devised, probably at the time of Pericles.
In 1456, Piraeus became known as the Aslan Liman (the Lion's Port) of the Turks, taking its name from the marble lion standing at the point at which, later, the old Town Hall was built. The marble lion was stolen in 1688 during Francesco Morozini's well-known expedition against Athens and carried to the Arsenal of Venice, where it still stands today. A copy of the lion statue is on display at the Piraeus Archaeological Museum.
With the creation of the modern Greek state and the proclamation of Athens as the capital in 1832, the port again acquired a reason for existence and developed into a great commercial and industrial centre.
Piraeus quickly became the leading port and the second largest city in Greece. The town flourished and neoclassical buildings were erected; one of which continues to ornament the present town, houses the Municipal Theatre, an excellent example of the area's once wider neoclassical architecture. Piraeus is now the third largest municipality and the largest port in the country.