Central Cemetery (Proto Nekrotafio)

Central Cemetery (Proto Nekrotafio) (44)

This place is a veritable outdoor sculpture museum. Walking through its interior streets and avenues, you wouldn't think you are in a cemetery, because the environment here is idyllic. And if you still have reservations, it is enough to know that many Athenian families take a pilgrimage here on weekends for a picnic among the gravestones and mausoleums. Do not be terrified and cross through the gate, because it is a lovely walk. 

Built in 1838, were it not for the spectacular and monumental tombs, mausoleums and crypts emerging among the vegetation, you might think you are in a botanical garden. 

Some of the most famous pieces of funerary art from the 19th and 20th centuries are in this cemetery, also known as the First cemetery of Athens, not because of its age, which is far surpassed by the necropolis of Kerameikós, but for its importance. 

The beauty of some works is extraordinary, and it exudes a sense that sometimes makes it seem like the stone statues come to life, such as the sculpture of an old man and his wife embracing, as a symbol of a their long life together. However, the most-admired sculpture here is Sofia Afentaki's grave, designed by famed sculptor Giannoulis Chalepas. Classically sculpted like a sleeping beauty, the finesse and serenity on its face and the sweetness of its forms make it seem as if it is asleep, as such as is the idea of eternal sleep. 

Here is where the most influential personalities of Greece were buried the last two centuries. Names such as politician and actress Melina Mercouri, whose tomb is always full of flowers, the important German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, and poet and Nobel laureate Giorgos Seferis have their graves in the Central Cemetery, among tall cypresses alternating with small and flowering shrubs.

Walking through the central cemetery you will hear the laughter of children who scamper and play hide and seek, delighting in the thousands of nooks and crannies here. There are several species of pine trees and herbs, thyme, rosemary, etc. competing with the smell of incense burning on the carefully tended graves. It may seem like black humour, but it is no lie to say that this cemetery is always a lively place.

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