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Some 2,500 years ago, a severely outnumbered Greek naval fleet managed to halt a force of invading Persians in a decisive clash fought in the narrow strait between the Greek mainland and the island of Salamis.Essential to the Greek victory were some 200 three-banked warships, known as triremes.When not in battle, these all-important vessels were housed in a massive naval facility in Athens’ seaport, Piraeus.As part of a recent excavation of Piraeus Harbor, a team of Danish and Greek marine archaeologists discovered the remains of an ancient naval base estimated to date to between 520 and 480 B. With six sheds, each designed to hold hundreds of vessels, the complex would have been one of the largest structures in the ancient world.In 2001, a team of marine archaeologists led by Bjørn Lovén of the University of Copenhagen launched the Zea Harbor Project, a major land and underwater investigation in search of the ancient Athenian naval bases of Zea and Mounichia.They got a huge break in 2010, when a local fisherman guided them to a site on the northern side of Mounichia, in an area now used for fishing and yachting.

In order to protect this vital naval defense system, the ancient Athenians built a massive facility at Piraeus that would rank with the Acropolis and the Parthenon among the most formidable structures in the ancient world.Triremes would prove to be the key to building Greece’s naval power, both before and after the Battle of Salamis.The vessels were exceedingly vulnerable to damage, not just when at sea or in battle, but also while moored in the harbor.Excessive exposure to the punishing summer sun would dry out and shrink the timbers of the ships’ hulls, creating leaks, while exposure to rain would cause swelling and fungal decay in the wood.

Ship-sheds, like those found by Lovén and his colleagues, were used to protect the vessels from these risks, as well as from damage by the wood-eating mollusks known as shipworms, or woodworms. C., the complex of naval bases built at Piraeus could house more than 350 triremes.

The ship-sheds, long parallel buildings measuring some 6 ½ meters wide and up to 80 meters long, had ramps along each side sloping up from the water.