You know on a visit to Greece that you’ll across some ancient monuments and cemeteries are no exception. Within walking distance of the Acropolis (in fact you can see it from many viewpoints within the cemetery), I found it a really interesting place to visit.
Kerameikos is derived from Keramos, the son of Dionysios and Ariadne, who was the hero of potters. In fact, the name Keramos (or Ceramus) is where we get the word ceramic, and this was in fact the potters area of the city way back in the BCE. They used to take their clay from the Eridanos River which used to run near the area. Burials took place in the area as far back as 3000 BCE, but the first organised cemetery dates back to 1200 BCE. This cemetery was also the beginning of the Sacred Way. In 478 BCE new city walls were built and funerary sculptures were added to them, and to some of the later gates as well. Another important building called the Pompeion was built within the cemetery grounds as well. It was meant to honour Athena during the Panathenaic Festival, and was used in various ways over the years, but was razed is 86 BCE. The area/cemetery continued to be used until the 6th century when it was completely forgotten under layers of soil until it was rediscovered in the mid-19th century. In later years when they were digging for a new metro station they discovered over 1000 tombs dating from the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, as well as a plague pit. There’s even more to be excavated and discovered, but like so many other places, needs funding to do so.
When I first arrived I went straight to the museum which is next to the modern cemetery gate. It houses a lot of the original funerary monuments that were found here, as well as jewellery, urns, toys, etc. The most impressive structures within the cemetery are all replicas. However, at some point in its history there was a decree to have more modest monuments (that seems to be a pattern in many religions/cultures), and those simple small columns are the most prolific.
Within the grounds of the cemetery are various signboards explaining about the different structures that used to be there. It was a good way to get a sense of what this place must of been like in its heyday.
Monuments: Mostly ruins or replicas within the cemetery grounds, the museum has the originals, which has beautiful reliefs and statues.
Grounds: Fairly large and slightly hilly, the ground can be uneven in places.
Visitors: There were a few while I was here as it is a tourist site, but the numbers were small compared to most other places in Athens.
Notes: Come in late winter/early spring when the grass is green and wildflowers are out. I imagine in the summer it is brown and parched.
Site: Kerameikos Cemetery (Κεραμεικός)
Established: 1200 BCE
Notable Internments: Dionysios of Kollitos, Hegeso, daughter of Proxenios,
Location: Ermou, Athens 105 53
Hours: 08:00-20:00 daily