The Long Walls – Themistocles’ Ambitious Fortification Project

The Ling Walls

Themistocles was the first to perceive Piraeus’ strategic geographical position and its significance for the Athenian domination on the Mediterranean basin. With this in mind, in 493 BC, he proposed a fortification project, the cornerstone of which being the construction of a wall that would connect Athens to its major port and thus, controlling the sea, enable the city against any siege.

The Persian invasions, however, put the ambitious project on hold and only in 480 BC the actual fortification works began. It wasn’t until much later, though (446 BC) that the original Themistocles’ project was completed. First Cimon, son of Miltiades, oversaw the completion of the North Wall – the wall that connected Athens to Piraeus – and reinforced Athens’ defenses even more with the construction of the Phaleric Wall, which connect the capital with Phaleron, another of its major ports.

Due to Cimon’s ostracism, however, it was under Pericles’ charge that the work was finally completed. The walls were 160 meters apart, 6 kilometers long and 20 meters high. Additionally, a third, middle wall, called the South Wall, was erected at his command. This was parallel to the North Wall, creating a narrow fortified corridor between Athens and Piraeus and providing a living space in times of war when the wider region of Attica was under attack. The three of them were named Long Walls.

Sadly, the Long Walls didn’t last for long. In 431 BC the Peloponnesian War began. The citizens of both Athens and Piraeus, although protected behind their walls, were overrun by famine and plague. When, in 404 BC, Athens finally surrendered to Sparta, the Long Walls were destroyed by the conquerors.

Ten years later Athens finally recovered and decided to take up arms against the Spartans, once again. At the beginning of this war – known as Corinthian War -, in 395 BC, the Athenian admiral Conon arrives at Piraeus; he restores the Long Walls and builds walls of his own, extended in order to cover the entire perimeter of the peninsula. The greatest part of the Cononian Walls and what had remained of the Long Walls were destroyed for good by the Roman general Sulla, in 86 BC.

A length of approximately 2.5 kilometers of the Cononian Walls is preserved today, in quite good condition, at Themistocles coast (Piraiki), in Piraeus. In front of the ancient walls the alluring, crystal clear Aegean sea is extended, while cafés and traditional seafood taverns are lined on the full length of the picturesque road above. One of the most significant and famous archaeological sites of Piraeus merged in the city’s number one tourist destination.

The Long Walls – Themistocles’ Ambitious Fortification Project
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