Chapter XIV. The Peireus and the Shipping.
98. The "Long Walls" down to the Harbor Town. - It is some five miles from the city to the Peireus, and the most direct route this time lies down the long avenue laid between the Long Walls, and running almost directly southwest.[*] The ground is quite level. If we could catch glimpses beyond the walls, we would see fields, seared brown perhaps by the summer sun, and here and there a bright-kerchiefed woman gleaning among the wheat stubble. The two walls start from Athens close together and run parallel for some distance, then they gradually diverge so as to embrace within their open angle a large part of the circumference of the Peireus. This open space is built up with all kinds of shops, factories, and houses, usually of the less aristocratic kind. In fact, all the noxious sights and odors to be found in Athens seem tenfold multiplied as we approach the Peireus.
[*]These were the walls whereof a considerable section was thrown down by Lysander after the surrender of Athens [404 B.C.]. The demolition was done to the "music of flute girls," and was fondly thought by the victors to mean the permanent crippling of Athens, and therefore "the first day of the liberty of Greece." In 393 B.C., by one of the ironies of history, Conon, an Athenian admiral, but in the service of the king of Persia, who was then at war with Sparta, appeared in the Peireus, and WITH PERSIAN MEN AND MONEY rebuilt the walls amid the rejoicings of the Athenians.
The straight highroad is swarming with traffic: clumsy wagons are bringing down marble from the mountains; other wains are headed toward Athens with lumber and bales of foreign wares. Countless donkeys laden with panniers are being flogged along. A great deal of the carrying is done by half-naked sweating porters; for, after all, slave-flesh is almost as cheap as beast-flesh. So by degrees the two walls open away from us: before us now expands the humming port town; we catch the sniff of the salt brine, and see the tangle of spars of the multifarious shipping. Right ahead, however, dominating the whole scene, is a craggy height, - the hill of Munychia, crowned with strong fortifications, and with houses rising terrace above terrace upon its slopes. At the very summit glitters in its white marble and color work the temple of Artemis Munychia, the guardian goddess of the port town and its citadel.[*]
[*]This fortress of Munychia, rather than the Acropolis in Athens was the real citadel of Attica. It dominated the all-important harbors on which the very life of the state depended.
99. Munychia and the Havens of Athens. - Making our way up a steep lane upon the northwestern slope, we pass within the fortifications, the most formidable near Athens. A band of young ephebi of the garrison eye us as we enter; but we seem neither Spartans nor Thebans and are not molested. From a convenient crag near the temple, the whole scheme of the harbors of Athens is spread out before us, two hundred and eighty odd feet below. Behind us is the familiar plain of Athens with the city, the Acropolis, and the guardian mountains. Directly west lies the expanse of roof of the main harbor town, and then beyond is the smooth blue expanse of the "Port of the Peireus," the main mercantile harbor of Athens. Running straight down from Munychia, southwest, the land tapers off into a rocky promontory, entirely girt with strong fortifications. In this stretch of land are two deep round indentations. Cups of bright water they seem, communicating with the outer sea only by narrow entrances which are dominated by stout castles. "Zea" is the name of the more remote; the "haven" of "Munychia" is that which seems opening almost at our feet. These both are full of the naval shipping, whereof more hereafter. To the eastward, and stretching down the coast, is a long sandy beach whereon the blue ripples are crumbling between the black fishing boats drawn up upon the strand. This is Phaleron, the old harbor of Athens before Themistocles fortified the "Peireus" - merely an open roadstead in fact, but still very handy for small craft, which can be hauled up promptly to escape the tempest.
100. The Glorious View from the Hill of Munychia. - These are the chief points in the harbors; but the view from Munychia is most extensive. Almost everything in sight has its legend or its story in sober history. Ten miles away to the southward rise the red rocky hills of Aegina, Athens' old island enemy; and the tawny headlands of the Argolic coasts are visible yet farther across he horizon. Again as we follow the purplish ridge of Mount Aegaleos as it runs down the Attic coast to westward, we come to a headland then to a belt of azure water, about a mile wide, then the reddish hills of an irregular island. Every idler on the citadel can tell us all the story. On that headland on a certain fateful morning sat Xerxes, lord of the Persians, with his sword-hands and mighty men about him and his ships before him, to look down on the naval spectacle and see how his slaves would fight. The island beyond is "holy Salamis," and in this narrow strip of water has been the battle which saved the life of Hellas. Every position in the contest seems clearly in sight, even the insignificant islet of Psytteleia, where Aristeides had landed his men after the battle, and massacred the Persions stationed there "to cut off the Greeks who tried to escape."
The water is indescribably blue, matching the azure of the sky. Ships of all kinds under sails or oars are moving lightly over the havens and the open Saronic bay. It is matchless spectacle - albeit very peaceful. We now descend to the Peireus proper and examine the merchant shipping and wharves, leaving the navy yards and the fighting triremes till later.