By the Editors of the Madain Project

Kerameikos (Κεραμεικός) was a suburban area of ancient Athens, located to the northwest of the Acropolis and Agora. The "Inner Kerameikos" was formerly known as the city's "potters' quarter," while the "Outer Kerameikos" encompasses the cemetery and the Dēmósion Sēma (public graveyard) located just outside the city walls.

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It was at this graveyard that Pericles delivered his funeral oration in 431 BCE. Additionally, the cemetery marked the starting point of the Ηiera Hodos (the Sacred Way), the road leading to Eleusis, along which the procession moved during the Eleusinian Mysteries. The choice of this location for the quarter was influenced by the abundance of clay mud brought by the Eridanos River.

The area has undergone a number of archaeological excavations in recent years, though the excavated area covers only a small portion of the ancient dēmos.

Notable Structures

circa 480 BCE

Themistoclean Wall
Immediately after the victories of the Greeks at Plataea and Mykale in 479 BCE, as well as after the departure of the Persians from mainland Greece, the Athenians returned to their ruined city and began rebuilding it. Themistocles, a far-sighted general and shrewed politician, urged his fellow citizens to fortify their city with a new wall that included and expanded the city in all directions, sparing neither pricate nor public buildings for the procurement of building material. Simultaneously, he took care of the fortifications of the ports of Piraeus, a work that he had already inaugurated as archon in the year 493 or 492 BCE. At the same time, he engaged in a diplocatic ploy in order to take the Lacaedemonians, who reacted strongly to the prospect of a well fortified Athens, by surprise. Thus, in this way the Athenians walled their city in a short time. To this day the building shows signs of the haste of its execution; the foundations are laid ofstones of all kinds, and in some places not wrought or fitted, but placed just in the order in which they were brought by the different hands; and many grave stelai too, from tombs and sculpted stones were put in with the rest.

The haste of construction has also been confirmed through the excavations. The stone socle (crepis) of the wall of the Themistoclean era is perfectly preserved south of the sacred gate in Kerameikos, to a height of three to four courses of which only the upper two are visible today, and follows the uphill course of the natural rock (towards modern day Ermou street).

The Themistoclean fortifications protected the city of ancient Athens throughout the fifth century BCE. When the Lacaedemonians prevailed in the Peloponnesian war, in 404 BCE, putting an end to Athens' hegemonic ambitions, the Athenians were forced to destroy the Themistoclean wall of the asty (city), the walls of Piraeus and the long walls. As a matter of fact, the walls were demolished to the sound of flutes playing.

circa 400 BCE

Small Sanctuary and the Marble Gate
the early Kerameikos excavations, at the end of the ninteenth century CE, uncovered a morble monument in front of the "sacred gate". It had been positioned on the corner of the Proteichisma (outer fortification) tower, directly bordering the Roman level of the "sacred street", some 3.5 meters above the fourth century BCE level. In 2002-03 the layers inside the tower and below the monument were excavated in order to creat a better fundament for its restoration. During these works, a two stepped limestone basis was found inside the tower that obviously belonged originally to the marble monument. The structure could now be identified as an altar dating back to the fifth century BCE. The altar was originally situated inside a small sanctuary surrounded on three sides by a larger ashlar blocks for protection. It had two larger steps towards the so caled "sacred way". Its covering slab is missing. At the late fourth century BCE, when the Proteichisma was built, the altar was dismantled and obviously transported to an other place. It was moved several times after that, whenever fortification activities or the higher street levels made it necessary. In its south eastern corner the wear from wheeled traffic is discernible. The deities worshipped here can not be identified yet, but the cult must have been very important for the Athenians, because they continued using the altar for at least next six and a half centuries. In 2004 CE the altar was put back on its original fifth century BCE base. A roof was installed above it for protection.


Sacred Way and Eridanos River
The Eleusinian or the so called "sacred way" was one of the most ancient roads of Athens. From the "sacred gate" it led to Eleuses, a distance of one hundred stades (about 20 kilometers). The use of the road for the procession of theEleusinian Mysteries conferred on it a special religious importance. In the prehistoric and early historical periods the bed of the Eridanos was constantly changing and the district flooded by the river. In 478 BCE, when the Themistoclean wall was built, improvements were made to the terrain; embankments were constructed which channeled the river and its bed was straightened out.

The ground level today is the same as that of the Classical period (circa fifth and fourth centuries BCE). Leaving back the "sacred gate", he immediately comes across a square altar. Further, above the high shouthern hill is a mound concealing a host of mainly Archaic and Classical burials. Two grave stelae at its foot mark the positions of the tombs of the counsals. On the opposite bank of the river is another large burial mound, belonging to Anthemokritos. Next on the left can be seen the foundations of a small Classical sanctuary and beyond another sanctuary a simple open air precinct the tritopaneion. This is probably where family rituals took place related with the symbolic presentations of the infants to the their ancestors. On the right, almost opposite, is a Hellenistic stone bridge over the Eridanos. Beind the Tritopatrision is another burial mounc concealing a large brick funerary monument as well as bundreds of plain tombs. Finally, as one approached the modern Piraeus street which is flanked by family funerary monuments from the Classical period like those of the Sinopeians of Amphaerete and Aristomache.


The Pompeion, between the Dipylon and the sacred gate, was where the preparations were carried out for the most important festival of ancient Athens, the Penathenaian, which was held every four years in the middle of August. This large rectangular edifice, measuring some seventy by thirty meters, was built in around fourth century BCE. It has a large colonnaded court, a monumental propylon on the side towards the city, and rooms for public feasts. The building was used for storing the equipment and materials, for collecting offerings, etc for the great festival, while in its large court the Penathenaian processional ship was prepared for the rituals. It was from here that the procession set out for the Agora and then proceeded to the Acropolis. During the rest of the year the Pompeion seems to have been used for other activities, such as a gymnasium.

Ancient sources mention that there was a bronze statue of Socrates by Lysippos here and painted portaits of isocrates and comic ports. Of the mosaics and paintings in ancient Kerameikos only one floor mosaic depicting animals has survived, exhibited in the museum. The Pompeion is believed to have been frequented by the Cynic philosopher Diogenes.

The classical building was destroyed in 86 BCE at the time of the Roman incursion in to ancient Athens. Later two buildings were erected on its ruins, first the so called storehouse (circa second century CE) and afterwards, in circa 400 CE, two arcades with a street ending in a gate. It is probably that both these structures continued to be used for the preparations of the Penathenaian until the end of antiquity. In the lowest archaeological levels, dating back to the classical Pompeion approximately 160 submycenaean burials were found (circa 1100 - 1000 BCE).


Road to the Plato's Academy
The ancient road, some 1600 meters in length, lead from the Dipylon gate to the ancient academy of Plato. During antiquity the road was simply called Kerameikos or the Dromos. It was sort of an official road in the city because on either side of, in the so called Demosion Sema (public tombs), were buried prominent Athenians and also those who fell in the city's battles. At the beginning of the Dromos there was an approx forty meters wide square, where the Athenians congregated to honour their dead with ceremonies, games, rituals and funerary speeches. Pericles' funerary oration for the first dead in the Peloponnesian War in 430 BCE was one of them.

In the Demosiaon Dema were the tombs of the distinguished Athenians, like Pericles, the tyrant slayers Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Kleisthenes, Thrasybulos, Lycurgus and others.

The excavations of the Dromos uncovered its classical level only along the western side of the road. The monuments bordering it are, in order, an Archaic tumulus, a classical period bath, the funerary monument of Lacedaemonians who fell in 403 BCE and the peculiar burial monument at the third boundary stone. The eastern side of the Dromos has not yet been excavated. The excavations further uncovered the higher level of the road during the Roman period, together with foundations of square funerary monuments.


Dipylon or the Thriasian Gates
The Dipylon, the most important gateway of the Athenian city wall, was the main entrance to the ancient city of Athens.

Covering an area of some 1800 square meters, it was the largest gateway in the ancient world. Four tall towers at the corcers created a large rectangular courtyard, the purpose being to hem the beiegers in. The towers were probably roofed and had steps to their tops; there were windoes for archers on the ramparts of the walls connecting them. On the side of the city the gateway was closed by two doors, to which it apparently owed the name Dipylon (double gate). The gateway was constructed at the same time as a Themistoclean walls in 478 BCE, and it lasted in more or less the same form until the Roman period. In Hellenistic period the towers were enlarged and two doors were added on the side facing away from the city, and in the Roman period a statue was erected on a large marble pedestal.

The large courtyard of the Dipylon, in addition to acting as a fortification element and a throughfare, was also a place frequented daily by merchants and peddlers. It had an another function, however, as an official meeting place for the Athenians in two different situations; when there were funerary ceremonies in the Demosion Sema, and at the time of the Panathenaian procession to the Agora and Acropolis. As in nearly every ancient city, there was a large fountain at the Dipylon, where travelers arriving from all over Greece on their way to the city could stay and refresh.

Notable Archaeological Artefacts


Archaic Scluptures from the Sacred Gate
In spring 2002 CE, during stratigraphical incvestigations on the part of the sacred gate outside the fortification wall, excavations by the German Archaeological Institute unexpectedly brought to light an impressive group of attic archaic sculptures, the like of which had not been discovered in ancient Athenian ruins since the archaeological discoveries on the Athens Acropolis of the sculptures from the Persian destruction levels of the city. These consisted of a kouros dating from about 600 BCE, a sphinx, two lions, two column capitals, one Ionic and one Doric, and a column. The present display includes the kouros, one of the lions and the sphinx, the last set on top of the column with the capital. These sculptures come from Archaic grave enclosures owned by aristocratic families and destroyed by the Persians. During the construction of the sacred gate by Themistocles in 479 or 478 BCE, the statues were placed beneath the sacred path on strengthen the road way. Wheel marks made by the carts passing along the sacred way can be seen on the back of the kouros and the front of the lions.

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See Also


Recommended Readings

The Athenian Kerameikos History - Monuments - Excavations

Ursula Knigge

The book describes the history of ancient Kerameikos in Athens, its monuments, and modern excavation activities.
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Greek Art and Aesthetics in the Fourth Century B.C. Publications of the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University Book 44

William A. P. Childs

Greek Art and Aesthetics in the Fourth Century B.C. analyzes the broad character of art produced during this period, providing in-depth analysis of and commentary on many of its most notable examples of sculpture and painting. Taking into consideration developments in style and subject matter, and elucidating political, religious, and intellectual context.
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The Kerameikos Archaeological Museum

Theodore Eliopoulos

Published by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture - Archaeological Receipts Fund, Greece.
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The Amphorae of the Kerameikos Cemetery at Athens from the Submycenaean to the Protogeometric Period Pottery, grave assemblages and the rite of cremation (International)

Simona Dalsoglio

The amphorae dating from the Submycenaean to the end of the Protogeometric period, brought to light in the Kerameikos cemetery, represent a high quality sample of Athenian output of the shape; this is due to their belonging to intact, archaeologically significant contexts.
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