In the 1920s, Piraeus was overloaded with Greek refugees from Turkey, many who spoke no Greek. They had nothing, no place to live, no jobs. They quickly became the new underclass.
One thing they did bring was music. It sprung up in the tekedes (hash bars) of Piraeus and was called Rebetika, or the Greek version of Blues. The songs about a harsh life involving drugs, crime, and life in the gutter quickly became mainstream, and musicians like Markos Vamvakaris made popular recordings.
In 1936, the Greek government began to censor the recordings by not allowing references to drugs or crime, tearing down tekedes, and harrassing and throwing many Rebetes in jail. They even outlawed the bouzouki for a short time.
After WWII and the civil war, the Rebetika started making a comeback in the mainstream and became popular all over the country with composers like Vasili Tsitsanis, but this time the theme of the songs were mostly about love.
The decline of this style of music began in the 1960s, but it is kept alive today by musicians like Giorgos Dalaras, who is an amazing performer and popular around the world.
In my opinion, the sounds of this style are the best of all the styles of Greek music.
Crossing The Road Between The Metro and The Docks
Just as a little update to this page -
Instead of having to walk across the road between the Metro and the docks there is now this rather snazzy pedestrian bridge, complete with escalators. They'd broken down last time I was here but hey this is Athens! ;) The bridge is certainly an improvement on having to take your life in your hands by crossing the road on foot when you still had to dash even when the traffic signals were in your favour - Athenian drivers seem to have an abhorrence of red lights!
"The gateway to and from Athens"
Piraeus is the main port of Athens and is a major gateway for sea travel within the Mediterranean.
Piraeus is effectively a suburb of Athens, such is the spread of this great metropolis, but is big enough to be considered a city in its own right.
How to get there?
Piraeus can be reached from downtown Athens by bus, taxi or the Metro system. Despite effectively being a suburb of the city, the journey can take 40 minutes or more, especially during rush hour traffic.
Naturally, Piraeus can be reached by sea from a great number of Greek islands and also from ports in neighbouring countries.
"What is there to see and do?"
If you are in Piraeus then the likelihood is that you are either:
a) Catching a ferry to the Greek islands, a neighbouring country or about to embark on a cruise around the Mediterranean, or
b) Heading to Athens after just getting off a ferry.
There really is no other reason to visit Piraeus. However, Piraeus is amply endowed with accommodation and restaurants should you need to spend a night here.
Ferries and hydrofoils leave Piraeus for the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Ionian, North-east Aegean and Saronic Gulf islands, as well as Crete and various international ports in southern Europe.
My first experience of Piraeus was arriving late in the evening after a 4 ½ hour ferry journey from Tinos. My plan was to head to the Saronic Gulf islands and, specifically, Aegina. There were no further boats to Aegina that evening so I was forced to spend a night in Piraeus. Within 5 minutes of getting off the ferry I was hustled into a taxi by an eager taxi driver and driven to a hotel a mere 100 yards away – a journey costing me 5 Euros! Oh well, at least my accommodation dilemma was solved. I was able to purchase a ticket from one of the numerous travel agencies for a hydrofoil the following day and then find a low-key café to enjoy a couple of delicious gyros pittas.
My next experience of Piraeus was arriving back from Poros after a week in the Saronic Gulf islands with the intention of making my way north to another of Athens’ ports, Rafina. I manged to establish that there was no bus linking the two ports and I was quoted 65 Euros to be taken there by taxi. I opted instead to take a taxi as far as Athens and then a bus from Athens to Rafina.
All in all, I was quite impressed with Piraeus. I didn’t experience nearly as much hassle as I thought I would in trying to find where I needed to be. There are clear signs to show where the various ferries leave from – for example, ferries to the Dodecanese islands leave from one area and ferries to the Cyclades from another area. The area was also a lot less seedy than I thought it would be and I felt perfectly safe walking through the streets alone late at night.
A few observations from my various journeys through Piraeus:
No direct bus to Rafina
As I have hinted at above, there is no direct bus linking Piraeus to its fellow port at Rafina. Surely I am not the only person to have arrived at Piraeus from the south with the intention of taking a ferry north (in my case to Evia) from Rafina. I expected this to be a relatively routine journey but all my research prior to making the journey indicated that it would not be. For example, googling “Piraeus to Rafina” returned only a handful of pages! If you find yourself needing to make this journey then I would recommend getting to the centre of Athens by bus or Metro, locating the correct bus stop for Rafina-bound buses and catching one of these. The cost will be significantly cheaper than the 65 Euro taxi fare I was quoted (the bus from Athens to Rafina cost a mere 1.80 Euros at October 2005).