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Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery of Athens Archaeology Site and Museum

One of the most beautiful and least visited of the archaeological sites in downtown Athens is Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens.

Kerameikos, AthensKerameikos was on the northwest fringe of the ancient city and and is now the outer edge of the areas visited by most travelers. But if you follow Ermou street down from the Monastiraki train station you will easily find it on your right and if you were as lucky as I was and go in the winter or off-season you may have the place to yourself. Kerameikos is named after Keramos, son of Dionysios and Ariadne, hero of potters. The area was used continuously for burials from the twelfth century BC for a thousand years.

I actually am ashamed to say that having lived in Athens and visited on and off for over 30 years, before this winter I had never been there. But since my brother's fiance's sister (actually my brother's ex-fiance's sister now) was the archaeologist in charge of the site, I felt it was my family duty to take a walk down there, introduce myself and take some pictures for the Athens Guide as well. I never found her. So I wandered around the ruins instead and had a profound experience.

Kerameikos, Athens, GreeceWhen you visit Greece in the summer, the ground around the ancient stones has been baked by the sun and anything that was alive is as brown as the dirt. But in the winter when it rains everything is covered in grass and moss and it gives you a strange feeling like you are in Ireland, in some remains of an ancient Greek or Roman colony . And since the summer crowds are at home you can have places like Kerameikos to yourself.

Within the site are the ancient walls of Athens and the Sacred Gate which was only used by pilgrims from Eleusus using the sacred road to and from that site during the annual procession. Nearby is the Dipylon gate which was the main entrance to the city, where the Panathenaic procession began and where the prostitutes congregated so they could make themselves available to weary travelers. It was from this spot that Pericles gave what was probably his most well-known speech honoring those who had died in the first year of the Peloponesian war.

Kerameikos, AthensBetween the two gates is the Pompeion, where the preparations were made for the Panathenaic procession which was in honor of Athena. The building was completely destroyed in 88 BC and a 3 aisled building called the Building of the Warehouses was erected in it's place in the 2nd century AD. The church of Agia Triada is in the background. The Eridanos river which once passed through the Sacred gate still flows beneath the site. It was covered by the Romans. On the Street of Tombs you can see replicas of the gravestones of some of Athens most prominent citizens. The originals are in the National Museum. There is a small well organized museum to the left of the site entrance with some really nice pottery, and sculptures. If you can get there in the winter or before the tourist hordes arrive for the summer then go. But even if you come in the summer be sure to take the walk to Kerameikos and hang out for awhile. If you see my (ex)sister-in-law-to-be say hi from me.

KerameikosKerameikos is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8am to 3pm. Also check out the new Benaki Museum and the Ceramics Museum all in the same neighborhood. Other places of interest nearby include the Jewish Synogogue and the Hammam (Turkish baths).  Unlike the one in the Plaka this is a working Hammam so you can actually take a bath, though it may be the most expensive bath you have ever taken. If is is lunch or later you are within a couple blocks of my favorite restaurants in Psiri and there are a lot more in Gazi at the very bottom of Ermou Street. You can walk from Kerameikos to the Acropolis now and hardly see an automobile just by walking up the pedestrian Ermou and turning right before you reach where the cars are. Be sure to check out the small Byzantine church of Ag Assomaton before you do. It is right there at the intersection.

Kerameikos Grave Markers

What are these things?
They are grave-markers, commonly used after a law was passed prohibiting the more elaborate monuments, (with statues, for example) which had previously been in vogue.

Kerameikos Bull

Marble Bull in the plot of Dionysious from Kolytos

Kerameikos Museum pottery

Don't miss the museum! Lots of great pottery as you might expect from a place called Kerameikos.

See My 2015 Kerameikos Photos

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