This lush, tranquil site, uncovered in 1861 during the construction of Pireos St, is named for the potters who settled it around 3000 BC, then on the clay-rich banks of the Iridanos River. But it's better known as a cemetery, used through the 6th century AD, and, ironically, the vividly carved grave markers give a sense of ancient life.
Once inside, on a small knoll, you’ll find a plan of the site. A path leads down to the right to the remains of the city wall built by Themistocles in 479 BC, and rebuilt by Konon in 394 BC, and around the grounds. The wall is broken by the foundations of two gates; tiny signs mark each one.
This gate, of which only foundations remain, was where pilgrims from Eleusis entered the city during the annual Eleusian procession. The gate marked the end of the Sacred Way, aka Iera Odos, which is now a wide city street that still follows a straight route west to modern Elefsina.
The once-massive Dipylon 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 travellers. From a platform outside the 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.
Street of Tombs
Leading off the Sacred Way to the left as you head away from the city is this avenue reserved for the graves of Athens’ elite, while ordinary citizens were buried in the bordering areas. Some surviving stelae (grave markers) are now in the on-site museum and the National Archaeological Museum. What you see here are mostly replicas, but look for poignant details such as a stela showing a little girl with her pet dog.
Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
The small but excellent museum contains remarkable stelae (grave markers) and sculptures from the site, such as the amazing 4th-century-BC marble bull from the plot of Dionysos of Kollytos, as well as funerary offerings and ancient toys. Outside, don't miss the lifelike stone mountain dog.
- Sacred Gate
- Dipylon Gate
- Street of Tombs
- Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
- In the middle of the site, align yourself with Iera Odos, beyond the fence to the northwest – this will help you envision the gates and other buildings around the end of this historic road.
- There is no cafe or shop close by; bring water, or a bottle to refill from the tap by the museum.
- Admission to the site and the museum is included in the Acropolis combo ticket.
Take a Break
Metro Thissio station (green line) is the closest (not, as you might expect, the Kerameikos station on the blue line).
A cemetery reveals ancient life.