The Ancient Port of Zea was the largest of the three ports of Piraeus, the other two being the port of Munichia and the port of Kantharos (currently the host port). It was the largest port in Greece as well at the time and probably the first military port built. The construction of the Ancient Port of Zea obviously echoes Themistocles’ view that the fleet was the milestone of the Athenian dominance in the Classical Times.
The part of the ancient port that literally has survived time intact is its name itself: Zea. An inscription found on the inlet part of the port containing the contract of “the Arsenal of the Military Port of Attica in Zea” identifies it. As for the provenance of the name Zea, there are two prevailing theories:
- The Ancient Port of Zea owes its name to the cereal zea, which is probably the oldest cereal, widely cultivated in ancient Greece and in the ancient world in general.
- The name Zea is another name for the goddess Luna at times identified with Diana whose temple was nearby, on the Hill of Munychia (Temple of Diana of Munychia).
Given their natural fortification by the overlying Hill of Munichia, the Port of Zea along with the Port of Munichia were strictly military ports, chosen over the port of Kantharos.
Features & Facilities
The entrance to the basin of Zea was to the south, protected with two walled piers. At the entrance of the Ancient Port of Zea and near the jetties there were towers made of stone, each of them at a distance of 96 meters from the other. A chain attached to the towers would refloat to shut the port. Next to the towers there were special spaces functioning at the time as heat sinks (“psiktres”, deriving from the Greek word “psichos”, meaning cold) used to dry sails and ropes.
On the eastern side of the basin along the coastline have been found ship sheds “neossοikoi”, some of which have been excavated. On the northwest side remains of the famous “Arsenal of Philo” have been found, where the spare and removable parts of the triremes were guarded. Workers’ settlements, barracks, arsenals, craft workshops and entertainment venues surrounded this naval base.
This early-developed industrial zone wasn’t included in the Hippodameian Town Planning, as a wall at a 37 meter distance from the coast clearly separated the naval base from the city of Piraeus.