A visit to Athens ancient burial ground has become a yearly pilgrimage for me and Springtime is the perfect time to stroll around its beautiful graves and monuments.
Poppies and wild flowers dance among the time-worn stones and the warmth of the Spring sun provides the perfect temperature for walking. To see the whole site, a ramble round will take at least an hour so wear comfortable shoes! In summer you will need a sun hat, some water and sunscreen although some welcome shade can be found under the pomegranate and olive trees that border the site.
This is a large site that was once both within and without the ancient city walls. The Eridanos river ran through here, making it the ideal spot for the potters of ancient Athens to create and sell their wares. (Perhaps you have realised by now that our word for pottery, “ceramic” derives from the Greek for pottery clay, “keramos”, hence “Keramikos”?)
On the northern side of the plot, a wide road led into the city through the double arched Dipylon Gate. This was lined with the graves of the most important Athenian warriors and statesmen, including Pericles and Cleisthenes.
Ancient Athenian superstars aside, it is the numerous funerary sculptures honouring the wealthy families buried beneath that really make this place special.
These lavish mausolea and monuments lie in the cemetery just outside the ancient city walls near the road that ran all the way from Athens to Eleusis. Each year, Athenians would doubtless be reminded of their own mortality as they left the city and walked along this Sacred Way to participate in the Eleusian Mysteries, perhaps the most famous of all the secret religious rites of Greece.
There is a small on site museum housing the largest collection of funerary artefacts in the country, making it a poignant point of interest. In one of the cases, cosmetic pots and sandals really brings home the feeling that this place was once inhabited by real people whose every day lives and concerns were probably not so very much different than our own.