About a 15 minute walk from Monastiraki Square, Kerameikos was the potter’s quarter of ancient Athens and the site of the city’s most important cemetery. It was used from 476 BC for over 1500 years. The site has more to see than just an ancient cemetery. Admission as of July 2016 is €8, but a combo ticket for €30 gives access to several archaeological sites in Athens including the Acropolis.
The best part of the site is the small museum that houses elegant tombstones and artifacts found during excavations. The tombstones are some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The building of such monuments was banned in 317 BC.
The actual site may look like a bunch of scattered ruins from the fence outside, but it’s worth at least a 30 minute walk through to read the plaques and understand the significance of the area. The first section I walked through was the cemetery and the Street of Tombs, which had plaster casts of the tombstones in the museum sitting where the originals were found.
The ruins of a large building, the Pompeion, was where preparations for the Panathenaia festival were carried out. The festival incorporated religious ceremonies and competitions in athletics, poetry, musical, and cultural events. The Pompeion was built in 400 BC and destroyed in 86 BC when the city was sacked by Roman dictator Sulla.
The Pompeion sat just outside the city’s Themistoclean Walls, which were completed in 478 BC. On the walls is the Sacred Gate, which is connected to the Iera Odos (Sacred Way). The procession of Eleusinian Mysteries started at this gate and led to Eleusis. This was a secret religious rite dedicated to Demeter and Persephone with the belief that participants would be rewarded in the afterlife. The Iera Odos runs alongside the Iridanos River, which was rediscovered in the late 1990s. The potter’s quarter was located here because the clay deposits in the river were good for making ceramics.
Also along the walls is the Dipylon. It was the most important gate on the Athenian city walls and the largest gate in the ancient world. From here, the Panathenaic Procession for the Panathenaia festival led into the city towards the Acropolis.
Heading the other way, the road led to the Platonic Academy, which was just a few kilometers away. The stretch of road near the Dipylon went past the Tritopatreion, where Athenians worshipped their common ancestors, and the Dimosio Sima, the public tomb where Pericles delivered his Funeral Oration in 431 BC during the Peloponnesian War. A number of statesmen and warriors are buried on either side of the Dipylon, including Pericles himself.