Brothels, cabarets, bars. Sailors, pimps, prostitutes. The typical makeup of an early 20th century port. But you knew that. What you probably don’t know is that while you’re waiting to embark on your ferry boat journey from Piraeus, you’re a block or two away from where this thrillingly seedy world thrived not so long ago. Located on the left side of the port, as you’re looking at your ferry, Troumba has quite a colourful history. Until the late 1960s, petty crime and drunken brawls were a given, while three X-rated cinemas screened movies for those who didn’t feel like indulging in the brothels. And there was the famous 6th fleet of the US navy that showered green into the red. There was even a movie made Kalos irthe to dollario (which roughly translates to ‘welcome to the dollar’).
The Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922 drove huge numbers of Greeks from Turkey’s western shores, and many of them settled in Piraeus. Rebetika music was born here—the music of the underground, of the poor, songs of hardship, displacement, and getting high, often accompanied by the sorrowful dance of lone a man. It took root in the Troumba and the smell of marijuana seeped out of the tekedes, or hasish dens, where you could enjoy both the music and the herb. Gambling was another favourite pastime, fuelled by the poverty spurred by the forced exile of Greeks from Turkey and then by the German occupation during the Second World War.