Athens, Greece

You are about to experience one of the most intriguing and influential cities of the ancient world: Athens. This travel guide is a walking tour of the best Greco-Roman archeological sites to visit. Prepare to be amazed!

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1 Visit Classical Athens, Greece

Athens is the capital of Greece (formally the Hellenic Republic). With a metro population of about three million, it is also the country’s largest city. Yet Classical Athens is less than a mile in diameter. Inside this compact footprint are countless historic landmarks and ruins awaiting your exploration. The most famous is the Parthenon on the Acropolis. Collectively, these archeological sites trace thousands of years of Athenian culture. This travel guide describes the major antiquities to see in the Upper City (Acropolis) and the Lower City surrounded by the Themistoclean Wall in the 5th century BC.

Parthenon, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

2 Temple of Olympian Zeus Description in Athens, Greece

Let’s start your tour of ancient Athens in a large open field measuring 820 by 426 feet. In the center is another rectangular space defined by a low marble wall. This is the footprint of the former Temple of Olympian Zeus. The colossal Greek temple was 362 by 143 feet, qualifying as one of the largest ever built during antiquity. The first Zeus sanctuary dates from 550 BC. The second was started in 515 BC but ended five years later. In 174 BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king of the Seleucid Empire, resumed the project. A decade later, work on the half-finished temple ended again. Finally, the Olympieion was completed nearly 650 years later in 132 AD and dedicated by Roman emperor Hadrian (reign 117 – 138). The glorious temple was destroyed during the Sack of Athens in 267 AD. Most of the materials were carried off for other construction. Today, all that remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus is a cluster of Corinthian columns.

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athina 105 57, Greece

3 Temple of Olympian Zeus Dedication in Athens, Greece

You appreciate the magnitude of the former Temple of Olympian Zeus when you admire the 15 remaining fluted columns. They stand an imposing 56 feet tall. Now imagine a structure supported by 104 of these marble columns. What deity could possibly warrant such a tribute? Zeus was the king of all gods and the father of a dozen Olympian gods. He received the gift of lightning and thunder from a Cyclopes and ruled the sky while his siblings Poseidon and Hades controlled water and the underworld respectively. Zeus Olympios was also the founder of the Panhellenic Games at Olympia, the start of the Olympics in 776 BC. If this sounds intriguing, then consider the 3.5 hour drive to the Archaeological Site of Olympia. The location once housed a Zeus statue that was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athina 105 57, Greece

4 Hadrian’s Arch near Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, Greece

Hadrian was responsible for the completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. To immortalize him, a giant sculpture of the Roman emperor was crafted from ivory and gold (a chryselephantine statue). Also in the temple was an equally remarkable statue of Zeus. The emperor was further honored in 132 AD with this 59 foot triumphal arch. The gateway into the Temple of Olympian Zeus was crafted from Pentelic marble. The arch was also the demarcation for Hadrianopolis, a new section of the city developed by Hadrian.

Leoforos Vasilisis Amalias 50, Athina 105 58, Greece

5 Ruins Encircling Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, Greece

There are several ruins encircling the Temple of Olympian Zeus. These obscure sites can be hard to identify. In the north are Themistoclean Wall (470 BC), a basilica (5th century) and a Roman bathhouse (131 AD). Below a 3rd century wall to the south are the remnants of the Parilissia Sanctuaries (or Parilissia Iera). They included the Temple of Delphinium Apollo (5th century BC), the Temple of Artemis Agrotera (440 BC), the Sanctuary of Cronus and Rhea (2nd century AD), the Sanctuary of Panhellenic Zeus (2nd century AD) plus the Epi Delphinio Courthouse (5th century BC).

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athina 105 57, Greece

6 St. Catherine’s Church in Plaka Neighborhood in Athens, Greece

You will encounter several Byzantine churches in Athens. Most were constructed between the 11th and 12th centuries. The medieval churches share several characteristics: small brick buildings with a cross design, red-tile roofs and eight-sided domes. The Church of St. Catherine (Agia Ekaterini) in the Plaka neighborhood is an excellent example. It was originally dedicated to Saint Theodore when built in the 11th century. In 1767, the church was gifted to the Saint Catherine of Mount Sinai monastery. It now honors Catherine of Alexandria. She was martyred in Alexandria, Egypt in 305 AD at the age of 18.

Chairefontos 10, Athina 105 58, Greece

7 Entry into the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

About a third of a mile from the Temple of Olympian Zeus is the Acropolis. You will not need directions. The famous mount is visible from almost anywhere in central Athens. The main entrance is on the west side at the base of this Roman theatre named Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Expect long lines of tourists, especially midday. The less crowded alternative is the southeast gate at the Dionysus Theater. Between these points is the Stoa of Eumenes. The arched walkway dates from 160 BC. The two-level arcade stretches 535 feet. Regardless of your entry point, you can purchase tickets only for the Acropolis or a combination package for six other popular archeological sites. If you want to save time, purchase tickets online for the day of your visit. The next several photos provide a walking tour of the Acropolis.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

8 History of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Your heart will jump a beat the first time you see the Parthenon perched atop the Acropolis. The word is Greek for the highest point of the city. The Scared Rock is the epicenter of ancient Athens. Archeological evidence suggests people lived here over 5,000 years ago. However, many of the ruins date back to the 5th century BC. This Golden Age of Athens witnessed the construction of several monumental temples honoring the goddess Athena, the city’s patron. The 7.5 acre citadel thrived for about 1,000 years until pagan worship was banned during the Byzantine period. The Acropolis was subsequently seized by the Ottomans (mid-15th century), significantly damaged by the Venetians during the Morean War (1687) and attacked three times in the 19th century. Extensive restoration began in the mid-1970s. Since then, the Acropolis has partially reflected the pinnacle of Athens’ antiquity. Roaming the Acropolis will be the highlight of your trip.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

9 Odeon of Herodes Atticus on Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Odeon means a theater or concert hall. The one built into the southwest corner of the Acropolis was funded by Herodes Atticus (101–177 AD). He rose to the elevated levels of consul and senator in Rome, a rarity among Greek nationals. His legacy, however, was as a major philanthropist of the arts. He was the benefactor of several public buildings including the 5,000 seat Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The arched façade is part of the original structure built in 174 AD. The Herodeion was destroyed in 267 AD. The concave rows of marble seats were addded in the 1950s.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

10 Agrippa Pedestal and Temple of Nike on Acropolis in Athens, Greece

After viewing the theatre, you trudge up a path before passing through Beulé Gate. The fortified entry was added in the 3rd century AD for extra defense. You will then encounter this view. On the left is the Pedestal of Agrippa. The 29 foot marble plinth commemorated a chariot race won by Eumenes II, the king of Pergamon (reign 197 – 159 BC) during the Panathenaic Games. A life-size quadriga (chariot driven by four horses) symbolizing victory once adorned the pedestal. It was rededicated to Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC. He was a distinguished Roman general (he defeated Anthony and Cleopatra) and the prolific architect of many landmarks in Rome such as the Pantheon. On the right is the Temple of Athena Nike, built in 420 BC. She is the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. Nike epitomizes victory. The warrior maiden was also the patron, protector and namesake of Athens.

Temple of Nike, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

11 Majestic View of the Parthenon on Acropolis in Athens, Greece

As you reach the pinnacle of the Acropolis, you pass through a columned structure called the Propylaea. The elaborate marble gate from the 430s BC has been in partial ruins since a gunpowder explosion in 1656. Finally, you see the most famous Greek temple from antiquity and the icon of Athens and Greece: the Parthenon. You will stand in awe. It was dedicated to Athena Parthenos when finished in 432 BC. The name comes from the Greek word parthenos meaning virgin. The cult followers of the war goddess believed she was chaste.

Parthenon, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

12 Description of the Parthenon on Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The Parthenon you see today was not the first. An early version was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. The current Parthenon, along with many of the other structures on the Acropolis, was initiated in the mid-5th century BC during the Golden Age of Athens. The Periclean temple measures 228 by 101 feet and 230 feet tall. It was designed by architects Ictinus and Callicrates. Their peripteral design was encircled with fluted Doric columns. Above them were 92 panels (metopes) featuring battle scenes. The missing pediments were equally elaborate. The west one showed Athena and Poseidon struggling for control over Athens (guess who won that myth). The east pediment portrayed the birth of Athena in front of her father Zeus and other Greek gods. Everything was crafted from hand-carved marble. Inside the cella (or sekos meaning sacred enclosure) was an ivory and gold (chryselephantine) sculpture of Athena Parthenos. The gold weighed about 2,400 pounds. The colossal 38 foot statue of the goddess was crafted by Phidias, the sculptor who also created Zeus at Olympia. The room inside the Parthenon was surrounded by a frieze of high-relief marble carvings. The Parthenon remained a temple for a millennium before pagan worship was outlawed in 435 AD. Then, it served as a Christian church and later an Ottoman Turkish mosque before being damaged during a war between the Venetians and the Ottomans in 1687.

Parthenon, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

13 Description of Erechtheion on Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Another grand edifice on the Acropolis terrace is Erechtheion. The Ionic design is stunning. The architect may have been Mnesikles, the same Athenian credited with the Propylaea. Similar to the Parthenon, this temple was sponsored by Pericles and bore the marble carvings of Phidias. The outstanding feature is the Porch of Maidens on the south side. These are six carvings of different robed women doubling as columns (caryatids). The Greek term is karyatides, a derivative of the village Karyes in southern Greece where maiden dancers performed a dance called caryatis. The asymmetrical temple was built from Pentelic marble and completed in 406 BC. The four-room cella measures 73 by 36.5 feet. Over the centuries, the Erechtheion has been a church, a palace and a Turkish harem.

Erechtheion, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

14 Myths about Erechtheion on Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The name of the Erechtheion temple stems from Erichthonius. He was the legendary king of Athens from 1487-1437 BC and the adopted son of Athena. The Erechtheion marks the site of the Sacred Tokens where Poseidon struck the ground with his mighty trident and Athena planted an olive tree during a superiority contest. The temple is dedicated to both Greek deities. Additional myths suggest this was a burial site of at least two Athens’ kings. Finally, Athena’s sacred snake lived here while protecting the Acropolis in exchange for honey cakes. The goddess is typically pictured with two intertwined snakes symbolizing her wisdom and creativity plus a giant snake on her shield representing Erichthonius.

Erechtheion, Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

15 North View from Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The elevation of the Acropolis is about 500 feet. This height provides panoramic views of Athens. Looking north, you will see two prominent hills. On the right is Mount Lycabettus. (also spelled Likavittos). You can reach the forested 908 foot summit – Athens’ tallest – via the Lycabettus Funicular. The attractions at the top are the quaint 19th century Saint George Chapel, an outdoor amphitheater built in the 1960s and a marvelous city overlook. According to legend, Mount Lycabettus was formed when Athena dropped a large rock while building the Acropolis. Rising 492 feet on the left is Strefi Hill, named after a family who once operated a quarry here. Much of Lofos Strefi is a treelined park with hiking trails.

Acropolis, Athina 105 58, Greece

16 East View from Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Below the Acropolis toward the east are the standing columns from the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch (center) where you started your walking tour. The greenspace on the left is the 38 acre National Garden. Adjacent is the pine-covered Ardittos Hill, the ancient home of a supreme court. On the far left is the Panathenaic Stadium. The 45,000 capacity Kallimarmaro amphitheater was built entirely from marble in 144 AD. In the background is Mount Hymettus (peak 3,366 feet), one of four mountains encircling Athens and forming the Attica Basin.

Acropolis, Athina Athens 105 58, Greece

17 Owl of Athena at Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece

Before leaving the Acropolis, make sure to visit the archeological museum. The institution contains more than 3,000 artifacts displayed on three floors. The relicts reflect over 2,500 years of Athenian life, culture and religion. Before entering the Acropolis Museum, you will be greeted by the Owl of Athena. The three foot marble statue dates from the 5th century BC. The sacred owl was a constant companion of the virgin goddess and came to symbolize her infinite wisdom, judgement and insight. The Athenian Owl was the first double-sided coin minted over 2,400 years ago. It gave rise to the expression heads (Athena) or tails (her owl). The owl is also the symbol of Athens.

Dionysiou Areopagitou 15, Athina 117 42, Greece

18 Parthenon Frieze at Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece

The new Acropolis Museum opened in 2007. The facility is gorgeous. Walking through the 150,000 square feet of exhibition space is time consuming but you will be fascinated with every step. Among the highlights in the permanent collection are five of the original caryatids (woman columns) from the Erechtheion. You will also admire sections of the 524 foot frieze from inside the Parthenon. The high-relief marble panels were sculpted between 443 and 437 BC. A common image was horsemen. Each figure displays incredible anatomical details.

Dionysiou Areopagitou 15, Athina 117 42, Greece

19 Temple of Hephaestus above Ancient Agora in Athens, Greece

Your exploration of the Ancient Agora begins at the Temple of Hephaestus. It was finished in 415 BC after 34 years of construction. Unlike many of the archeological sites in Athens, this structure is largely intact. The project was initiated by Pericles (495 – 429 BC), a leader of the Athenian democracy. He sponsored numerous buildings during the 5th century BC including the Parthenon. This Golden Age of Athens is also called the Age of Pericles. The temple is dedicated to Hephaestus. The son of Zeus and Hera was the Greek god of craftsmen, artisans and sculptors. He was also the blacksmith to the gods on Mount Olympus. Among his many consorts was his wife Aphrodite. She was the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The temple served as the Orthodox Church of Saint George Akamates from the 7th century AD until 1834. The ancient structure was a museum until 1934.

Temple of Hephaestus, Ancient Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

20 Temple of Hephaestus Colonnade above Ancient Agora in Athens, Greece

It is hard to fathom the Temple of Hephaestus is over 2,400 years old. Walk slowly around the periphery. The edifice measures 104 by 50 feet. There are three rows of successive columns leading to a cella. The inner chamber once contained images of Hephaestus and Athena. This outer colonnade (peristyle) has 38 fluted Doric columns etched in marble. You can still admire some of the Doric frieze panels (metopes) decorating the architrave above the columns.

Temple of Hephaestus, Ancient Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

21 Ancient Agora Overlook from Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, Greece

Make sure to go to the east rear porch (opisthodomos) of the Temple of Hephaestus. The ancient temple is perched on the hill Agoraios Kolonos. Below your feet is a spectacular view of the Ancient Agora of Athens. The panorama is the only way to fully comprehend the sprawling 30 acres of this amazing archeological landscape. Agora means marketplace in Greek. The Athenian Agora was the epicenter of political, social and business life in Athens for over 3,000 years. The ruins reflect the city’s major historic periods: Archaic (700-480 BC), Classical (480-323 BC), Hellenistic (323-31 BC), Roman (31 BC – 323 AD) and the early Byzantine (starting in 323 AD). The Athenian Agora was destroyed by the Slavs in 580 AD. Your imagination (or a good reconstructed map) will have to picture the 35 grand buildings that once occupied the heart of ancient Athens.

Temple of Hephaestus, Ancient Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

22 Triton Statue at Odeon of Agrippa at Ancient Agora in Athens, Greece

This Triton is one of four pedestals marking the former entry of the Odeon of Agrippa along the Panathenaic Way. The fishtailed merman statue dates from 150 – 175 AD. The Odeon of Agrippa was a 1,000 seat roofed auditorium built in 15 BC and razed by the Heruli in 267 AD. The word odeon means concert hall. The namesake is Marcus Agrippa. The Roman general was a prominent architect in Rome during the 1st century BC. Among his credits is the Pantheon. The ruins of Odeon of Agrippa are in the center of the Ancient Agora. A stone wall outlines the previous 169 by 142 foot shape of the former Agrippeion.

Odeon of Agrippa, Ancient Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

23 Emperor Hadrian Statue at Ancient Agora in Athens, Greece

This headless statue from the 2nd century AD might be hard to recognize. It is a larger than life sculpture of Emperor Hadrian located in the Ancient Agora. The elaborate breastplate (cuirass) features Athena in the center. The Greek goddess is standing on a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Hadrian was a Roman emperor from 117 through 138 AD. He was also an archon (chief magistrate) of Athens from 125 – 129 AD. Make sure to also visit the nearby ruins of Hadrian’s Library built in the Roman Agora in 132 AD.

Ancient Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

24 Museum at Ancient Agora in Athens, Greece

The only major building standing in the lower Ancient Agora is Stoa of Attalos. The original covered arcade was built with marble in 150 BC. The 380 foot, Hellenistic structure contained over 40 shops. This equivalent of an ancient shopping center was a gift of Attalus II Philadelphus, the king of Pergamon (reign 159 to 138 BC). In 267, the Stoa of Attalos was destroyed during the Sack of Athens by the Heruli. In 1956, the two-story complex was meticulously reconstructed. It now houses the Archaeological Museum of the Athenian Agora. On display are many of the artifacts discovered during excavation of the Ancient Agora. Representative of the collection is this limestone cult statue of Apollo Patroos from the 4th century BC.

Stoa of Attalos, Ancient Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

25 Holy Apostles Church at Ancient Agora in Athens, Greece

In the southeast corner of the Ancient Agora is the Church of the Holy Apostles. Built in the late 10th century and rebuilt in the mid-1950s makes the Byzantine church fairly modern compared to the surrounding ruins. The Greek name is Agioi Apostoloi Solaki. From here, it is only a few steps to the Roman Agora, another archeological highlight of ancient Athens.

Polignotou 13, Athina 105 55, Greece

26 Athena Archegetis Gate at Roman Agora in Athens, Greece

The Gate of Athena Archegetis marks the western entrance to the Roman Agora. The marble propylon from 11 BC has four Doric columns supporting a large, triangular architrave. The gateway is dedicated to Athena Archegetis (Athena the Leader), the patron deity of Athens.

Athena Archegetis Gate, Roman Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

27 East Courtyard Colonnade at Roman Agora in Athens, Greece

During the second half of the first century B.C., the Ancient Agora was overflowing with activity despite (or perhaps because of) a recent development boom. Simultaneously, the Romans were becoming a dominant influence over the city. This environment prompted the construction of the Roman Agora. Initial funding was provided by Julius Caesar in 51 BC. The project was finished under the reign of Augustus, the first Roman emperor from 27 BC until 14 AD. These broken marble columns along the east courtyard hint at the former grandeur of the Roman Agora. The massive trading and shopping center measured 364 by 343 feet. The open space was encircled with a continuous porch (peristyle).

Tower of the Winds, Roman Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

28 Tower of the Winds at Roman Agora in Athens, Greece

This octagonal, 42 foot marble tower along the Roman Agora will catch your eye. The Tower of the Winds was built in 50 BC by Macedonian astronomer Andronicus of Cyrrhus. This was designed as a horologium (sundial) for telling time. The carved reliefs on top represent the eight gods of the wind. The one in the center is Zephyrus. He was the god of the west wind and provider of light breezes during spring and summer.

Tower of the Winds, Roman Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

29 East Gate at Roman Agora in Athens, Greece

At the east end of the Roman Agora was another gate. This one was built in the mid-1st century AD. Similar to the western propylon, it was dedicated to Athena Archegetis. The identity of the arched wall is often debated. Most authorities call the ruins Agoranomeion. The structure was the office for the market inspectors at the Roman Agora.

East Gate, Roman Agora, Athina 105 55, Greece

30 Fethiye Mosque at Roman Agora in Athens, Greece

In the northeast corner of the Roman Agora is Fethiye Mosque. This was the site of a Christian basilica from the 8th century. The church was converted into an Islamic mosque in 1458 called the Mosque of the Conquest. The locals called it the Wheat Market Mosque. A replacement was finished in 1670. Over the centuries, the building was repurposed as a Catholic church, a school, a barracks, a bakery and finally a warehouse for artifacts unearthed at the Roman Agora. After a restoration, Fethiye Mosque reopened in 2017 as a museum and exhibition space.

Panos & Pelopida, Athina 105 55, Greece

31 Madrasah Gate near Roman Agora in Athens, Greece

This door adjacent to the Tower of the Winds in the Roman Agora is easily overlooked. The Madrasah Gate is all that remains of an Islamic theological school built in 1721. Later, the facility became a prison. Stories abound of exceptionally cruel treatment and frequent hangings from a plane tree in the courtyard. By 1915, the building was demolished by archeologists during excavation projects.

Madrasah Gate, Pelopida, Athina 105 55, Greece
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32 Panagia Kapnikarea Church in Athens, Greece

Panagia Kapnikarea is another Byzantine church. It was constructed in 1050 AD over the site of a temple devoted to either Athena (goddess of wisdom and war) or Demeter (goddess of agriculture). Oddly, the namesake of this church was an ancient tax collector. It is assumed Kapnikares provided funds for construction. In the early 1830s, the deteriorating church was slated for destruction but then saved by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Panagia Kapnikarea Church is now the property of the University of Athens.

Ermou 55, Kapinkareas 2, Athina 105 63, Greece

33 Mosaic Entry of Panagia Kapnikarea Church in Athens, Greece

The Church of Panagia Kapnikarea is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The word Panagia means Virgin Mary. Above the south door is an exquisite mosaic of the Madonna with Child created in 1936 by Elli Voila. Inside are contemporary works from the 20th century by Fotis Kontoglou, a famous Greek icon painter. His most notable is a huge fresco of Theotokos Platytera (Our Lady of the Sign) painted above the altar in 1942. The art depicts Mary with raised hands and the circular image of the Child Jesus across her chest.

Ermou 55, Kapinkareas 2, Athina 105 63, Greece

34 Presidential Guards at Unknown Soldier Tomb in Athens, Greece

An exciting event to watch in Athens is the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The war monument is in front of the Hellenic Parliament at Syntagma Square. These two Evzones are part of an elite infantry unit of the Hellenic Army assigned to the Presidential Guard. They are wearing the traditional summer ceremonial uniform. Their red hat (fez) with the long tassel is a farion. The pleated kilt is a fustanella. They wear two pairs of white stockings (periskelides) and leather clogs (tsarouchi) with black pompons on top. Their .30-06 caliber semi-automatic rifle is equipped with a bayonet. Most amazing is their ability to stand perfectly still for an hour without any facial or eye movements.

Leoforos Vasilisis Amalias 133, Athina 105 57, Greece

35 Sacred Way Ruins at Kerameikos in Athens, Greece

In the Kerameikos neighborhood is a rarely visited archeological site. Within this 11 acre property are the best ruins of the Themistoclean Wall. The 5.25 mile defense was built in the 5th century BC to encircle the city. This spot was also the start of the Sacred Way. The major road from the northwest featured two entry points from 478 BC until the 3rd century AD: Sacred Gate and Dipylon Gate. The latter was an impressive 19,000 square feet. Between them was the Pompeion, a ceremonial building constructed three times in the 4th century BC plus the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. In the background is the Church of the Holy Trinity (Agia Triada).

Ermou 150, Athina 105 53, Greece

36 Ancient Cemetery at Kerameikos in Athens, Greece

Kerameikos is also noteworthy as an ancient cemetery. This may have been a burial ground since before 2000 BC (Early Bronze Age). Most graves date from the 9th century BC until the 1st century AD. Elaborate sepulchral monuments were erected until the practice was forbidden in 317 BC. An example is the Molossian hound watching over the 52.5 foot grave of Lysimachides since 338 BC. The Greco-Roman dog breed is extinct. Among the modest steles on the right is a hand-shake memorial. This common motif represents a family member saying goodbye to a loved one.

Ermou 150, Athina 105 53, Greece

37 5th Century BC Events at Kerameikos Cemetery in Athens, Greece

At the start of Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, Athenians began an annual tradition of burying their war dead in a state ceremony. In the first year of the event (431 BC), Greek statesman and general Pericles spoke of democracy at Kerameikos. The Pericles Funeral Oration was one of the most famous speeches from antiquities. Concurrently, hundreds who died from a plague were buried here from 430 until 426 BC. So, the necropolis was etched in Athens’ history. Since excavations began in the 1860s, hundreds of graves have been uncovered, along with artifacts and elaborate grave markers. This one from 325-310 BC. honored the burial site of two sisters, Demetria and Pamphile.

Ermou 150, Athina 105 53, Greece

38 Origin of Word Ceramic at Kerameikos Cemetery in Athens, Greece

The most eye-catching monument at Kerameikos Cemetery is this giant marble bull above the 4th century BC grave of Dionysios of Kollytos. Fans of etymology will be more interested to learn how the neighborhood led to the word ceramic. When the Eridanos River flowed through here, it produced an orange-red clay ideal for pottery (keramos in Greek). The community of pottery artisans was named Kerameikos and their style of elaborate painted earthenware was called keramikos (Greek for ceramic). Mythology credits Keramos (Ceramus) for lending his name. He was the lord of the Keramaikos pottery district and the mortal son of Dionysus, the god of wine.

Ermou 150, Athina 105 53, Greece

39 Kouros at Kerameikos Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece

Save time to visit the small but interesting Kerameikos Archaeological Museum. On exhibit are the original burial monuments of the replicas you admired along the Street of Tombs in Kerameikos Cemetery. There are also artifacts from local excavations. This is a kouros statue uncovered near the Sacred Gate. The archeological treasure measures nearly seven feet and was carved from marble in 600 BC. The noble young boy is assumed to represent the Greek god Apollo. Similar kouros sculptures have been found across Greece.

Ermou 150, Athina 105 53, Greece

40 Sphinx at Kerameikos Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece

Another ancient find on display at the Kerameikos Archaeological Museum is this sphinx. Analysis suggests the marble sculpture was carved in the mid-6th century BC. The stunning art was either part of the Sacred Way or a funerary monument at Kerameikos Cemetery. The similar Sphinx of the Naxians from the Temple of Apollo is a highlight of the Archaeological Museum of Delphi, Greece. That version of the mythical winged creature (lion’s body, woman’s head) is a colossal 7.25 feet tall.

Ermou 150, Athina 105 53, Greece
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