Kerameikos: The Spirits Of The Dead

Today I visted a site called Kerameikos in Athens.  It was a cemetery for many centuries, and contains numerous examples of funerary art.  The site was only rediscovered in 1861 during road construction in the neighborhood.  On the site is also located the famous Dipylon Gate, which was the main entrance into Athens during ancient times when the city was surrounded by walls.  The gate itself is said to have been the largest gateway in the ancient world, covering around 1800 square meters.  Constructed around 478 B.C., it had four large covered towers and a courtyard that also served as an official meeting place and a location for commercial activity.  I was excited to see the remains of the Gate, as I had read references to it in classical texts.

Before it became a cemetery, it was originally a place where potters worked.  The clay near the River Iridanos was supposed to have been of excellent quality.  The site is also the location of a building called the Pompeion.  Here preparations were conducted for an Athenian ceremony named the Panathenaia, which was held every four years during the month of August.  The Pompeion is a rectangular courtyard surrounded by colonnades.  A procession would leave from this building to the Acropolis.  In the Pompeion there was said to have been a bronze statue of Socrates and some portraits of comic poets.  The building itself was destroyed in 86 B.C. by the Romans.  In the area is also a monument marked “Tomb of the Lacedaemonians,” which contained the bodies of Spartans killed in 403 B.C. during civil conflict involving Thrasybulus at the Piraeus.

This site was even more interesting to me than the Acropolis.  It is a strange, evocative place.  It is filled with fruitful olive trees and humming insects.  I found it also inhabited by large, slow-moving tortoises, which I took to be a sign that the spirits of the dead still inhabited this place.  In some of the photos below, you can see the tortoises in the foreground of the photos.  I have included captions in the photos where appropriate.


Note the tortoise in the foreground


The Tomb of the Lacedaemonians


Inside the Tomb of the Lacedaemonians


A tortoise goes about his business near the Tomb of the Lacedaemonians


The Dipylon Gate today


Another view of the Dipylon Gate


Another view of the Dipylon Gate


Remains of the Pompeion


Another view of the Pompeion, with myself in the foreground


Note the tortoise in the foreground




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