The main harbour of Cantharus
The main harbour of Cantharus
The main harbour is situated in the NW part of Piraeus? peninsula (Fig.
4) and constitutes the largest natural harbour in the Mediterranean (Fig.
5). Its entrance was formed by two arms of land that extended from both sides
towards the gulf?s center: the Eetioneia coast on the northwest and the coast
which is extended east of cape Alkimos on the southeast.
The basin of the main harbor was called Cantharus due to its shape, which resembled
the corresponding vase. The Basin of Cantharus as it was recorded in the maps
of the first researchers, had the shape of an irregular rectangle, smaller than
the modern harbour, with dimensions approximately 1000x750m. Starting from the
west and moving clockwise around the basin, the Athenian shipyards were located
inside the walls and along Eetioneia coast. To the north a marshy region formed
outside the walls, was used a cemetery, (as the great number of grave stelae and
sarcophagi which were unearthed during its dredging for the construction of the
modern entrance port) and was until recently mistakenly identified as the Kofos
Limen (Steinhauer, G.A., 2000,p.79). The commercial port of Piraeus "Emporion"
situated on the northeastern side of the basin, while one part of the military
dockyard of the Athenians extended in the southern point of Cantharus, on Alkimos
coast. The Kofos Limen was on the west coast of Eetioneian peninsula in today?s
Krommydarous? bay, while outside the port, beyond the north beacon that was found
in Lipasmata area, was the Foron Limen or " Thieves? Harbor" where there was no
control of any kind by the port?s authority (Steinhauer, G.A., 2000,p.79).
The two natural jetties projected into the sea with the extension of the walls
that run along the eastern and western coastline of the harbour, in order to form
a narrow entrance. The moles were constructed, in their upper part, with the use
of rectangular large stones of local porous limestone (aktetis) with a length
of more than 3.30m which were held in position with the help of clamps sheathed
with lead (Shaw, J.W., 1972, p.90-91). The moles had a length of 130m each leaving
an entrance of 50 m. The coastal walls of the harbour extended over those two
moles to form, at each extreme, a large rectangular tower (Spon, 1676, p.234)
from which a chain was hang across the entrance, to protect the harbour in case
of a sudden attack.
The existence of lighthouses (columns with fire at their highest point) for the
signification of the entrance is confirmed by the remnants that have been restored
in two positions along the coast (Steinhauer, G.A., 2000,p.79). (Fig.6,
The first one on the northwest, inside the area of today?s fertilizer factory
and the other to the south, in the area of the Maritime Administration of the
Aegean, beside the precinct that has been identified as the tomb of Themistocles.
Ship Sheds (Neosoikoi).
The dockyard of the harbour was situated on the south of Cantharus, at Alkimos
coast and consisted of 96 ship sheds in 331 (IG II² 1627-1629 & 1631) in a total
of 372 in the whole of Piraeus. This area of the main harbor developed into a
naval military zone after Munychia and Zea, when the need for military ships was
Naval administrative buildings and arsenals were situated behind the ship sheds
while the whole area of the dockyard was surrounded by an enclosure and entry
was allowed only to the public servants and to the workers of Neoria.
The commercial harbour of Piraeus, the "Emporion" (Fig.8)
extended in a rectangular area of 250 x 1000m (Mazarakis-Ainian Ph., 1992, p.
74) with its longitudinal axis parallel to the coastline. The coastline was formed
into a quay from which piers, "kripidai, or hipodochai" projected into the harbour.
The docks formed between these piers were used for charging or discharging and
berthing of the ships. Traces of those constructions (Alten V., 1881, p.11-15)
existed until 1840, when they were destroyed during the construction of the modern
harbour. The position and the dimensions of each dock was fixed in the area of
the quay with the use of marking stones " horoi" (Mazarakis-Ainian Ph., 1992,
p. 74) which were used by Hippodamus during the drawing of Piraeus for marking
public spaces and buildings.
In the part of the basin that was used by the commercial port, the
existence and name of three piers is known, for their position, however, many
different opinions have been supported by historical topographers of Piraeus (Mazarakis-Ainian
Ph., 1992, p. 75) while it has also been supported that they all are the same
construction (Panagos Ch.Th., 1968, p. 218). They are the "Dia mesou choma", the"Choma"
and the "Diazeugma" (fig.5).
The "Dia mesou choma " was probably the pier that was constructed
for the junction of the two sides of the marshy area. The "choma" was a quay in
the deepest recess of the gulf (which can probably be identified with the mole
that extends today from the wharf in the area of Karaiskaki square) and was used
for the inspection of the fleet. Finally, the "Diazeugma was probably the partition
element of the central commercial wharf.
The discharging of the ships was done at several points of the commercial port, according to the category of the merchandise and the destination that corresponded to each portico of the wharf. Due to their small size the vessels were able to be in contact with the wharf in order to be charged, while mechanical means - for which there is no exact information - must have been used for the grater loads.
Warehouses - Commercial porticoes
In the area of Emporion it is believed that there were five porticoes (Panagos
Ch.Th., 1968, p. 224) that were used for mercantile exchange as well as for storage.
Their position their form and their number has been a question among the researchers
of Piraeus, while the latest excavation results form a more consistent image of
their layout (Steinhauer, G.A., 2000,p.83-84). Among them was the famous "Makra
Stoa" that was built during Periklis? time and served as the grain market, the
"Deigma", the business center that was used for the exhibition of sample of the
imported merchandise as well as the place that housed all the banks. The position
of "Makra Stoa" is now believed to be at the northern end of "Emporion" (at the
corner of Posidonos Coast and Gounary street) while that of "Deigma" is placed
in the center of "Emporion" according to an inscription found in site (Judeich,
The discovery of parts of the foundations from three of the porticoes
of "Emporion" (Notara st, Philonos st, Miaouli Coast and Bouboulinas st) allow
in some degree the reconstitution of the ancient coastline (fig.9),
according to which (Steinhauer, G.A., 1995,p.313) the layout of the porticoes
does not follow the Hippodamian web of the ancient city that enclosures the harbour
? as it was suggested by the maps of Kaupert-Milchhofer (1889), Judeich (1930),
Trauvlos (1969) and Hoepfner ? Schwander (1986, 1994). The inclined axis of the
of the three verified porticoes prove that the best reconstitution of the ancient
coastline is given by the Venetian map of 1687 (Sofou, H., 1973, p246-258, fig.112-113).
The semicircular arrangement of the porticoes on either side of the
"Diazeugma" and the adaptation of such an arrangement to the city?s Hippodameian
plan points to the formation of an enclosure around the area of the "Emporion"
(Steinhauer, G.A., 2000,p.91). The existence of the enclosure is noted on Judeich?s
with a length of 80m and foundations of such walls have been discovered near one
of the porticoes (Dragatsis portico) and further north.
This text is cited Aug 2005 from the R.G.Z.M. Roman-Germanic
Central Museum URL below.