Lonely Planet review
The city’s cemetery from the 12th century BC to Roman times, Keramikos was originally a settlement for potters who were attracted by the clay on the banks of the River Iridanos. Because of frequent flooding, the area was ultimately converted to a cemetery. Rediscovered in 1861 during the construction of Pireos St, Keramikos is now a lush, tranquil site with a fine museum.
Once inside, head for the small knoll ahead to the right, where you’ll find a plan of the site . A path leads down to the right from the knoll to the remains of the city wall built by Themistocles in 479 BC, and rebuilt by Konon in 394 BC. The wall is broken by the foundations of two gates; tiny signs mark each one.
The first, the Sacred Gate , spanned the Sacred Way and was the one by which pilgrims from Eleusis entered the city during the annual Eleusian procession. The second, the Dipylon Gate , northeast of the Sacred Gate, was the city’s main entrance and where the Panathenaic Procession began. It was also where the city’s prostitutes gathered to offer their services to jaded travellers.
From a platform outside the Dipylon Gate, Pericles gave his famous speech extolling the virtues of Athens and honouring those who died in the first year of the Peloponnesian Wars.
Between the Sacred and Dipylon Gates are the foundations of the Pompeion , used as a dressing room for participants in the Panathenaic Procession.
Leading off the Sacred Way to the left as you head away from the city is the Street of Tombs . This avenue was reserved for the tombs of Athens’ most prominent citizens. The surviving stelae (grave slabs) are now in the National Archaeological Museum, and what you see are mostly replicas. The astonishing array of funerary monuments, and their bas reliefs, warrant close examination. Ordinary citizens were buried in the areas bordering the Street of Tombs. One well-preserved stela (up the stone steps on the northern side) shows a little girl with her pet dog. The site’s largest stela is that of sisters Demetria and Pamphile.
The small but excellent Keramikos museum contains remarkable stelae and sculptures from the site, as well as a good collection of vases and terracotta figurines.