What does the word “Kerameikos” make you think of? What similar word comes to mind?
Change the Ks to Cs.
Kerameikos . . . Ceramics
It is the name of a district on the edge of Ancient Athens, named for Keramos, the patron god of ceramics. The Eridanos River ran through this area, providing clay and water for the potters’ shops that lined the banks.
I don’t think the river runs here anymore. I would guess it has either dried up, gone underground, or changed course. There is a little gully through the area, though, which hoses seem to be irrigating. Tree saplings are planted along the gully’s edge, as though someone is trying to re-establish the ancient landscape.
Ancient City Wall and Gates
In its heyday, this was the edge of the city of Athens. Remains of the city wall are here, along with two gates, leading to two roads. Athenian ruler Themistockles built the wall all around the city in 478 BC.
One gate, the Dipylon, was the grand entrance into the ancient city. The main roads from Thebes, Corinth, and the Peloponnese led to this gate. It was, more or less, the front door to Athens.
The other gate, a hop, skip, and a jump away, was the Sacred Gate leading to the Sacred Way, used solely by pilgrims, priests, and priestesses.
In the above picture, see the arch over the grassy path on the left side? It’s not super easy to make out in this shot, I know. As we have it figured, that grassy path is the road called the “Sacred Way.” To the right of that, note the rectangular area encompassed by used-to-be pillars. That’s the Pompeiion, which we’ll talk about in a bit. To the right of that, farther away, is the Dipylon Gate—those orange rocks under the little roof. That gate, which is really the gate support, is some different kind of rock. There isn’t much left of the gate supports on the Sacred Way.
I thought it strange that there were two gates and roads so near each other, but get this: It’s said that warriors returned to the city via one of the roads, priests and priestesses the other. One led to a brothel, the other to a temple. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which was which. There’s evidence for the brothel in X-rated pottery at the museum. I have pictures, but I am a children’s author, so I’ll forego posting those.
It took some effort to connect what the guidebooks and maps were saying with what we were seeing, but we stuck with it until we figured it out. One problem was the signage at the site: None of the maps on the signs were oriented to the site. Every stinking one had to be mentally rotated to match what we were seeing.
What? That’s ridiculous! Come on, Greece, get it together. Unfortunately, my head doesn’t rotate maps very well. (Come on, Jen, get it together!) But it was an interesting and pleasant site (lots of green, few people), so we took the time and made the effort to figure it out. We think we were successful.
Outside the city wall, along the two roads are graves. Statesmen and heroes were buried close to the city wall and given interesting tombstones, while commoners were buried farther away in less showy tombs.
A common motif on tombstones was the dead person sitting in a chair, or in one case a boat, with a standing friend, family member, or group shaking his/her hand. The faces of the survivors are somber.
Not all grave monuments are of the saying-goodbye variety.
A good many of these saying-goodbye scenes include a dog, also saying goodbye. It seems Athenians have long loved their pets.
About Those Dogs . . .
Speaking of dogs, according to one of our guidebooks, Athens has over 150,000 stray dogs. We’ve seen loads of stray cats, too. There is supposed to be a trap-neuter-return program in effect, and our observations suggest the animals are getting care. They all look good: well fed, healthy coats, and not a lot of fighting or grumpiness. I see groups of dogs with collars that have little plastic tags of different colors. They don’t look like normal dog tags for pets. I wonder if these are placed on strays that have been neutered and returned to their home territory.
Some packs look a little intimidating when they come trotting toward you, but they all seem to be going about their business as residents of the city with little regard for their human neighbors. And we’ve seen humans pouring piles of food along garden walls and under bushes, like putting seed out for birds. What they’re doing seems to work.
Pets are abundant, too. Here at Kerameikos, one of the workers leaves his German shepherd in a pen alongside the water closet. Every time the man peeks around the corner to check on his pooch, the dog barks a greeting and update. I think his last one was, “Boy, these visitors are friendly; they keep talking to me. And they may be lost; they’ve been by here three times now.”
While there are heaps of domestic animals in Athens, wildlife, not so much. But guess what: We saw some here! Yes, wild animals, and I’m not talking about the birds—not to poo-poo the birds. First we noticed some holes on a little hill, looking closer, we were thrilled to discover a tortoise.
We took turns looking through the binoculars at it, and then we noticed a second one on the hill. After 10 or 15 minutes of admiring the distant tortoises, we looked down and noticed three at our feet, inches away. In fact, the place was rotten with tortoises. Who knew? The guidebooks don’t mention them.
Inside the city wall is the Pompeiion. See? I told you we’d get to it eventually. The Pompeiion was a building used to prepare for religious festivals and processions. Remember that peplos (tubular garment) that Athenian women wove for the statue of Athena every year? It was carried through the city in the Panathenaic procession, and that procession started right here. I think the peplos was made here, too.
In the above photo, note the flat platform at the bottom. I’m thinking this might have been the way out of the Pompeiion. There are some grooves in the rock pavement that might have been made by cart wheels exiting the premises.
Also note how crowded the site isn’t.
Now, all those grave monuments we just saw were sitting out in the elements. They are replicas of the originals. The originals are in the museum on the site—or many of them, anyway.
Of course, the museum also had bunches of pottery. As always, I love the patterns, so I took lots of pics of those.
And then . . . a mystery
And then there was this:
No signs to explain what this is all about. I don’t know if Greece means this as a joke, but I sure found it funny.
The Kerameikos archaeological site ends here, but that road through the arch and history keep going. Plato’s Academy is down that way, but you’ll have to be a tortoise to tunnel through. The modern city above prevents further excavation, I suppose.
We bought some cashews, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds from a street vendor on the promenade (I’m not sure anyone calls it that besides us), then we stopped in a tourism office to confirm the route to the National Archaeological Museum via metro or trolley—tomorrow’s main event. We enjoyed a break and some food at home, and then we were off again.
But this post is long enough, don’t you think? So . . .
To Be Continued