Kerameikós (35)

If the chaotic traffic on the streets of Athens and the commotion of the tourists brandishing cameras among the ruins have become too much during your time in the Greek capital, why not take a trip to Kerameikos? 

This ancient cemetery, which is also home to some interesting archaeological remains, is named after the neighbourhood where it was located in ancient times. Kerameikos came from the Greek name Keramos, patron god of the potters who lived in this area that was situated on both sides of the city walls. The part of the site that was outside the walls became a necropolis. 

The cemetery started being used in the 12th century BC and went down in history for being the starting point of the Panathenaic procession, a religious celebration that is held every year in the city in honour of their goddess Athena. 

The site was strategic, because it was the meeting point between the Sacred Way, which led from Eleusis to Athens, and the roads that led to the capital from Boeotia, Piraeus and the Academy of Plato.

In the 5th century BC, the Dipylon Gate, the official and largest entrance to the city, was built. This gate provided access to two passages that led to an inner courtyard, with four towers built in the corners. This was where the Panathenaic procession started. Another large gate, the Sacred Gate, was also erected, flanked by a further two towers. Between the two buildings was the Pompeion, a large building in which preparations for the religious festivals took place.   

Some archaeological remains of the ancient monuments of the classical period still stand. In the 19th century, when excavations began, some interesting findings were uncovered. Some of them can be found in the Oberlander Museum, beside Kerameikos, which also houses fragments of tombstones and terracotta. Many of the statues and funerary sculptures on the original site are plaster reproductions, since the originals are kept in the galleries of the museum.

However, there are some original tombstones in these streets. The recommended walk in Kerameikos is round. Its main thoroughfare, the Street of the Tombs, is full of tombstones and sculptures of the characters who, in ancient times, were the richest people in Athens, for whom this street was reserved. Most funerary pieces on display in this street belong to the 4th century BC and reflect very different styles, from ostentatious reliefs to austere columns. 

In the shade of the fig trees and accompanied by the scent of the rosemary that grows wild here, you will find gems like the tomb of Dionysios of Kollytos, with the beautiful statue of an enraged bull, representing the god Dionysus. On the outskirts of this beautiful but macabre avenue, you will find the grave precinct of Lysimachia, which is topped by a marble dog, and the 5th-century BC burial mound of the Koroibos of Melite. This stele shows the wife of the deceased, admiring her jewellery under the watchful eyes of a maid. The Grave Stele of Dexileos belongs to the 4th century BC. Dexileos was a young man who died in the Corinthian War and is depicted defeating his enemies in the relief engraved on his tomb. 

This is one of the city's treasures, an idyllic setting that will provide you with some much-needed peace and quiet. Despite being a tourist destination, the environment invites silence, and the visitors stroll around quietly, observing the wild vegetation that grows over the streets and appears between tombstones and statues. It is far from sinister, we promise.

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