Athens Sights

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Kerameikos Cemetery Review

At the western edge of the Gazi district lies the wide, green expanse of Kerameikos, the main cemetery in ancient Athens until Sulla destroyed the city in 86 BC. The name is associated with the modern word "ceramic": in the 12th century BC the district was populated by potters who used the abundant clay from the languid Iridanos river to make funerary urns and grave decorations. From the 7th century BC onward, Kerameikos was the fashionable cemetery of ancient Athens. During succeeding ages cemeteries were superimposed on the ancient one until the latter was discovered in 1861. From the main entrance, you can still see remains of the Makra Teixoi (Long Walls of Themistocles), which ran to Piraeus, and the largest gate in the ancient world, the Dipylon Gate, where visitors entered Athens. The walls rise to 10 feet, a fraction of their original height (up to 45 feet). Here was also the Sacred Gate, used by pilgrims headed to the mysterious rites in Eleusis and by those who participated in the Panathenaic procession, which followed the Sacred Way. Between the two gates are the foundations of the Pompeion, the starting point of the Panathenaic procession. It is said the courtyard was large enough to fit the ship used in the procession. On the Street of Tombs, which branches off the Sacred Way, plots were reserved for affluent Athenians. A number of the distinctive stelae (funerary monuments) remain, including a replica of the marble relief of Dexilios, a knight who died in the war against Corinth (394 BC); he is shown on horseback preparing to spear a fallen foe. To the left of the site's entrance is the Oberlaender Museum, also known as the Kerameikos Museum, whose displays include sculpture, terra-cotta figures, and some striking red-and-black-figured pottery. The extensive grounds of Kerameikos are marshy in some spots; in spring, frogs exuberantly croak their mating songs near magnificent stands of lilies.

Updated: 05-17-2011

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