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

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

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

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
. 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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