Piraeus, Athens: Why Europe’s Art Crowd is Obsessed with the Industrial Port District

The former factories and gritty warehouses of Athens’ industrial port district are stocking a new export: art. We head to visit three Piraeus galleries that are leading the neighbourhood’s transformation

Like most port towns, the dustry district of Piraeus has long been a confluence of cultural influences. Serving ancient Athens since the fifth century BC, this Hellenic outpost of the Saronic Gulf has seen Greek, Roman and Ottoman boats moored along its lopsided shore, and harboured exports from localities much further afield. In the words of Athenian historian and general Thucydides, the Greek capital's seaside entrance is where "From all the lands, everything enters".

Today, the port streets are swallowed up into Athens' hazy sprawl. Destroyed by the Romans in 86 BC, Piraeus wasn't really repopulated until 1923, when more than a million Greek refugees fleeing Asia Minor settled here, bringing with them their tekedes (hash dens) filled with rebetiko protest music and the fug of illicit substances.

Carwan Gallery, Athens
Rooftops of Piraeus

Carwen Gallery, left, and Piraeus rooftops.

The first time I visited Piraeus, in the 80s, the hash dens were still there, clustered along potholed streets next to brothels, noisy exhaust-repair shops, and dusty bakeries. Behind fly-spattered windows were oily filo pastry tiropitas stuffed with salty feta cheese and crusty loaves of yellow horiatiko village bread made with semolina flour that backpackers (like me) would buy - along with cheap bottles of retsina - in order to survive the long ferry ride over to the islands.

Over the past decade, however, this ancient seaport - one of Europe's busiest - has had a facelift. The San Francisco-like switchback streets of Piraeus' once seedy hilltop enclave of Kastella, with its pastel-coloured neoclassical mansions and stunning views over the ritzy Athenian Riviera, is now home to a string of cool new hotels, including boutique beauty The Alex. Troumba - formerly the city's red-light district - is packed with noisy bars and late-night clubs rubbing shoulders with age-old delis and spice shops; the tiny, once tatty fishing port of Mikrolimano is now the place to find some of Athens' best seafood restaurants, while art festivals - including Pireos 260 - take place inside the former factories that ring the port proper.

Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte and Quetin Moyse
Coral-coloured chairs installation at a gallery

Carwen's Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte (left) and Quentin Moyse, and the Polina Miliou exhibition at the gallery. | Photo credit: Giorgos Sfakianakis

No surprise, then, that Piraeus' unhewn, unfinished image is getting noticed. Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, co-founder of Beirut's Carwan contemporary design gallery, recently described the port as "the new Berlin", and perhaps the best indication that this gritty district hovers on the cusp of increased footfall is the flux of world-renowned art promoters flocking here to repurpose abandoned warehouses and derelict tobacco factories into galleries hosting exhibitions and events that showcase some of the continent's top artists of today. The Carwen team opened a new gallery space in the area in September 2020.

From cool temples of contemporary art to hip havens dedicated to collectible design, here are three that are worth forgetting the Parthenon for.

Port of cool: the Piraeus art galleries to make tracks to

The exterior of The Intermission
Photo credit: Stathis Mamalakis


The Intermission

Another new addition to Piraeus' burgeoning art scene is Artemis Baltoyanni's The Intermission. A vast, echoing space with high white walls and natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows, it is ideally situated just across the road from organic wines and tapas bites at sommelier Giannis Kaimenakis' vintage-style wine bar Paleo. Exhibitions to look out for in this groundbreaking gallery - once a car-repair workshop - include acclaimed Californian conceptual artist John Knight's thought-provoking installations and Parisian artist Camille Blatrix's first solo show in Greece.


Polidefkous 37A, 185 45, Piraeus

Art hung in a white gallery space


DL Gallery and ENIA

Gallery owner Dimitris Lymperopoulos, who grew up in Piraeus and witnessed the area's post-industrial decay and subsequent renaissance, opened DL Gallery in 2015. Housed in his father's former factory - an immense industrial space with lofty ceilings, sheer white walls and a 50s-style glass facade at the heart of Piraeus's edgy Agios Dionysios quarter - DL Gallery exhibits conceptual art and installations, while sister gallery ENIA, next door, is devoted to contemporary art and photography.


Mesologgiou 55A, 185 45

The Polina Miliou installation at Carwen
Photo credit: Giorgos Sfakianakis



Fresh from the pockmarked streets of Beirut, contemporary design gallery Carwan, which set up shop in Piraeus' graffitied backstreets in 2020, is one of the more recent additions to this up-and-coming gallery district, which centres around Polidefkous Street. Mainly focused on contemporary art and collectible designs, Carwan showcases the work of international artists such as Polina Miliou, who repurposes items found in Greek street markets, and Vancouver-based multidisciplinary artist and designer Omer Arbel, who is renowned for his site-specific installations.


Polidefkous 39, 185 45, Piraeus

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