Piraeus – signs of the times

Piraeus, the city whose vast harbour serves as the port of Athens is, arguably, the greatest port in the world. To the enthusiast, the vast array of passenhger ships of all types lined up right around the Great Harbour is capitvating and almost astonishing. Yet the reality is that Piraeus can also be hot, dirty and, occasionally, somewhat seedy. To the foreign traveller it is a confusing mess of ticket offices, unknown ships and traffic – everyone else seems to know what they’re doing and where they’re going but to the unfamiliar it is almost impenetrable. I remember how once we encountered an exhausted young backpacker with a ticket for the departure, fifteen minutes hence, of the Panagia Ekatontapiliani in tears at the impossibility of finding her ship – although the vessel was clearly visible to us just a short walk away.

The mass of Greek domestic ferry operators has long been as confusing as its primary port. A rise and eventual fall seem almost inevitable for all but the very lucky few – some last a few months, some a few years and some decades, but history suggests that most will disappear eventually through merger, takeover, disaster, bankruptcy or just decline and disappearance. The nature of Piraeus, with its hundreds of ticket agencies and many abandoned office buildings means that memories of those ships and operators which have fallen by the wayside tend to linger. For example, nearly a decade after the 1995 collapse of Ventouris Sea Lines that company’s hoardings and the giant billboard images of their fleet of classic ex-UK car ferries could be seen on display near the berths from which they used to sail. And now, with the numbers of individual operators much reduced from previous decades, as these pictures from last year show many of the dozens of defunct ferry companies and their ships still make their presence felt whilst some of the modern hoardings of today’s operators will doubtless, in due course, become relics themselves.

The Poseidon Express agency in the central ticket block have in recent years proven a reliable source of sailing information and trusted booking agents. They also score highly with this montage of former Agapitos Express and, in previous lives, Sealink ships; Agapitos Express was absorbed by Hellas Ferries (later to become Hellenic Seaways) in 1999.

The Poseidon Express agency in the central ticket block have in recent years proven a reliable source of sailing information and trusted booking agents. They also score highly with this set of posters of former Agapitos Express and, in previous lives, Sealink ships; Agapitos Express was absorbed by Hellas Ferries (later to become Hellenic Seaways) in 1999.

Express Aphrodite (ex-St Columba).

Express Aphrodite (ex-St Columba).

Express Apollon (ex-Senlac), now scrapped.

Express Apollon (ex-Senlac), now scrapped.

A plethora of stickers are displayed on the front entrance. Poseidon Lines and Arcadia Lines are long gone, as are the original Olympic Airways. The little circular GA Ferries sticker gives their fleet as Milena, Daliana, Rodanthi and Dimitra which dates it to 1990.

A plethora of stickers are displayed on the front entrance. Poseidon Lines and Arcadia Lines are reminders of another age, as are the original Olympic Airways. The little circular GA Ferries sticker gives their fleet as Milena, Daliana, Rodanthi and Dimitra which dates it to 1990.

A relic of the original Ventouris Sea Lines before the mid-90s crash. The fleet list comprises the Kimolos (ex-Free Enterprise), Sifnos Express (ex-Cerdic Ferry), Apollo Express (ex-Senlac), Panagia Tinou (ex-Prins Philippe) and Georgios Express (ex-Roi Baudouin). That specific selection of ships pinpoints the date to 1993.

A relic of the original Ventouris Sea Lines before the mid-90s crash. The fleet list comprises the Kimolos (ex-Free Enterprise), Sifnos Express (ex-Cerdic Ferry), Apollo Express (ex-Senlac), Panagia Tinou (ex-Prins Philippe) and Georgios Express (ex-Roi Baudouin). That specific selection of ships pinpoints the date to 1993.

The two Agapitos companies as well as GA Ferries are now long gone.

The two Agapitos companies as well as GA Ferries are now long gone.

Around the corner the former agents for Lindos Lines retains this picture of that company's Milos Express (ex-Vortigern) in pride of place on the booking office wall. Staff advise that the picture remains a great talking point for passengers who remember favourably this stalwart of the Western Cyclades.

Around the corner the former agents for Lindos Lines retain this picture of that company's Milos Express (ex-Vortigern) in pride of place on the booking office wall. Staff say that the picture remains a great talking point for passengers who remember favourably this stalwart of the Western Cyclades.

The central block is now dominated by the present Hellenic Seaways head office - for years this property was rundown and neglected but has been restored for its present use.

The central block is now dominated by the present Hellenic Seaways head office - for years this property was rundown and neglected but it has been expensively restored for its present use.

The office includes a couple of fine ship models although this one of the Ariadne is itself obsolete - the ship has not actually operated for her owners since 2008.

The office includes a couple of fine ship models although this one of the Ariadne is itself obsolete - the ship has not actually operated for her owners since 2008.

Nissos Mykonos.

Nissos Mykonos.

The Ariadne also persists on the outside of the building.

The Ariadne also persists on the outside of the building.

HSW quayside ticket office adjacent to the berths of the company's High Speed fast ferries.

HSW quayside ticket office adjacent to the berths of the company's High Speed fast ferries.

Round to the east a little, Nova Ferries operate to the nearby island of Aegina.

Round to the east a little, Nova Ferries operate to the nearby island of Aegina.

Where do you want to go today? Sadly DANE, GA Ferries, Agapitos Lines and Agapitos Express Ferries are all defunct.

Where do you want to go today? Sadly DANE, GA Ferries, Agapitos Lines and Agapitos Express Ferries are all defunct.

MAS Travel are the central agents for the reincarnated Ventouris Sea Lines and their single-ship service using the Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist).

One Superfast agency has this model of the Superfast VII in the window; the ship never saw Greek service and, from later this year, will operate on the Irish Sea for Stena Line.

The former headquarters of Hellenic Mediterranean Lines, adjacent to the electric railway station, is now obscured by the pedestrian access bridge - a recent and welcome addition.

The former headquarters of Hellenic Mediterranean Lines, adjacent to the electric railway station, is now obscured by the pedestrian access bridge - a recent and welcome addition.

In its final years HML ('Elmes') was forced out of its historical headquarters and moved into less opulent offices over the road. The company failed to reappear for the 2005 season but the hoardings promoting perhaps Greece's most famous ferry company remain.

In its final years HML ('Elmes') was forced out of its historical headquarters and moved into less opulent offices over the road. The company failed to reappear for the 2005 season but the hoardings promoting perhaps Greece's most famous ferry company remain.

The front door of the HML suite of offices on the second floor (there was no one in).

The front door of the HML suite of offices on the second floor. A visit here back in 2003 revealed an amazing archive of HML paraphernalia. On board, the company's ships were notable for continually re-using bespoke items from earlier generations, from Aquarius ashtrays to Corinthia menuholders. One can only wonder what became of all this when HML finally closed down.

Adjacent, an agency promoting the major modern-day Greek operators: Minoan, Blue Star/Superfast, NEL and ANEK.

Adjacent, an agency promoting the major modern-day Greek operators: Minoan, Blue Star/Superfast, NEL and ANEK.

Walking round to the western side of the Great Harbour, in recent years various passenger-friendly improvements have been made, including connecting bendy-buses and several handy air-conditioned waiting areas.

Walking round to the western side of the Great Harbour, in recent years various passenger-friendly improvements have been made, including connecting bendy-buses and several handy air-conditioned waiting areas.

Taxi prices from the port are supposed to be fixed. Evidently this hasn't met with the approval of the local drivers.

Taxi prices from the port are supposed to be fixed. Evidently this hasn't met with the approval of the local drivers.

Zante Ferries are an operator based in the Aegean, specifically operating to their titular island (otherwise known as Zakynthos) but have in recent years deployed the Adamantios Korais to the Western Cyclades where she half-competes with the Agios Georgios.

Zante Ferries are an operator based in the Aegean, specifically operating to their titular island (otherwise known as Zakynthos) but have in recent years deployed the Adamantios Korais to the Western Cyclades where she half-competes with the Agios Georgios.

ANEN Lines disappeared several years ago; their single ship, the Myrtidiotissa, is now NEL's Aqua Maria.

ANEN Lines disappeared several years ago; their single ship, the Myrtidiotissa, is now NEL's Aqua Maria.

ANEK and NEL. This picture was taken near the end of the former company's attempt to muscle in on NEL's historic North Aegean patch by deploying the Lissos from Piraeus to Chios and Mytilene. After ANEK managed to extricate themselves from their commitments on the route the ship was sent for scrap in early 2011.

ANEK and NEL. This picture was taken near the end of the former company's attempt to muscle in on NEL's historic North Aegean patch by deploying the Lissos from Piraeus to Chios and Mytilene. After ANEK managed to extricate themselves from their commitments on the route the ship was sent for scrap in early 2011.

Minoan have large offices just over the road from the port gates, not far from the berths of their Cretan ships.

Minoan have large offices over the road from the port gates, not far from the berths of their Cretan ships.

ANEK are just down the road.

ANEK are just down the road.

Lastly, adjacent to the ANEK building is this block which served as the head offices of Minoan Flying Dolphins (Hellas Ferries) and later Hellenic Seaways before they moved to their current location in the heart of the port. It was from the top floor terrace that Pantelis Sfinias jumped to his death in the aftermath of the Express Samina sinking. Sfinias was the architect of MFD's rapid-fire acquisition of a variety of established family and local operators in 1999/2000 including Agapitos Lines, then operators of the doomed ship.

Lastly, adjacent to the ANEK building is this block (seen in 2007) which served as the head offices of Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Ferries and later Hellenic Seaways before they moved to their current location in the heart of the port. It was from the sixth floor terrace that Pantelis Sfinias jumped to his death in the aftermath of the Express Samina sinking. Sfinias was the architect of MFD's rapid-fire acquisition of a variety of established family and local operators in 1999/2000 including Agapitos Lines, then operators of the doomed ship.

5 Comments

  • By Vitor Francisco, June 13, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

    Great photos, excellent blog

  • By Dimitri, June 15, 2011 @ 8:24 am

    Excellent blog. I love all the photos and stories. Just awesome. I’m in Piraeus almost every year since the 90’s, so it’s nice to read about all the old ships which are all almost gone by now.

  • By marco barsotti, June 16, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    how can one not love that port, that confusion, and the excitement of being about to board for some Greek Island ?

  • By Administrator, June 18, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

    Thanks to all for the comments, they really are appreciated 🙂

    Piraeus is one of my absolute favourite places and, even as the authorities try to tame it, I hope it always retains its edginess and its slight sense of mystery and adventure.

    Matt

  • By Patrick, June 22, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

    Very nice with lots of memories of the past. Piraeus is one of my favorites with all the “organised chaos” on arril/departure of the ferry’s

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