Keramikos

keramikos


During the ancient years Keramikos used to be one of the most enchanting suburbs in the city. The neighborhood got its name from all the pottery workshops (keramopoiia) it used to be famous for. Nowadays one could describe Keramikos as part of the greater area surrounding the overground train stop Thesio, extending all the way down to Piraeos Street. It’s important for visitors to understand that the Keramikos archaeological site is only a small part of this ancient neighborhood.
After the Persian Wars were over, Athens was left in ruins. All the fortification walls were torn down and the once legendary city was now utterly defenseless. Luckily, the walls were very carefully rebuilt in 478 – 477 B.C. because of an expected lacedaemonian attack. Their speedy restoration was considered a personal triumph of Themistocles, who obliged every single Athenian citizen - including women and children - to work day and night while he was stalling the Spartans with vague political negotiations. In order to complete the construction of the walls as fast as possible, the Athenians used building material from the cemeteries destroyed by the Persians. When the legendary fortification walls were finally erected, the neighborhood was divided in two sections, eso (inner) and exo (outer) Kerameikos.

panoramic viewThe remains of the walls the german excavations brought to light were about 200m long and they probably constituted the most important part of the ancient fortification of Athens. The adjustments and additions it was subjected to over a period of 800 years are still visible. The walls were strengthened by Kononas at the beginning of the 4th century B.C. with the financial contribution of the Persians, while a full - fledged renovation was attempted after the devastating battle of Cheronia, where the Athenians were defeated by the Macedonians. This great undertaking was jointly suggested by Demosthenes (the famous orator) and Lycurgus. The different constructional periods are still evident to this day by the difference in the wall - building style.
Kerameikos also features two of the most important gateways to the ancient city of Athens, the Sacred Gate and the Dipylon, placed at the outset of the two most important processional roads of Athens leading to Elefsina and Thiasio Pedio respectively. If any out - of -towners from Peloponnesus, Viotia or northern Greece wished to visit the ancient city of Athens they were obliged to enter through these two gates. The southern gate - marking the beginning of the Sacred Way (Iera Odos) that led to Elefsina - was known as the Sacred Gate and it is believed that it was the road the initiates of the Elefsinian Mysteries used to take. The second, and by far the larger of the two gates, was northernly located and was called Dipylon. It was fortified with two twin towers equipped with successive double doors that formed an internal courtyard for added protection: Even if the enemy managed to overcome the first obstacle he’d still come upon a second set of doors and would inevitably be exposed to the blows of the guards while trapped in the inner courtyard. That’s exactly what happened to Philip VI of Macedonia and his army when he tried to invade Athens from those particular gates. His army was decimated and he barely escaped death. That’s probably why archaeologists discovered an altar dedicated to Zeus Erkitos (protector of the fortification walls) and Hermes Propyleo (protector of the gates) at that very location
The Dipylon was the main gateway to the city. One would even go so far as to say it defined the image of Athens to the outside world. The Athenians never stopped embellishing it, even when the city shrunk to half the size it once was and the fortification walls were no longer in use, stripping the Dipylon of its defensive role. There was another small wall called protichisma about six meters behind the first one wall, which constituted the initial line of defense. In front of it the Athenians had dug a trench with four large jars buried behind it, which archaeologists believe must have been traps for any scaling ladders the enemies tried to pull up against the walls. There was a quadruple interception line between the city of Athens and its enemies. Between the two gates, inside the defensive courtyard, the excavations unearthed a large building complex dating back to the 4th century B.C. It must have been the one described by Pausanias when he visited Athens in the 2nd century B.C., describing it as the place where processions began. No doubt he must have meant the procession that used to take place during the grand Panathenaea festival, which crossed the Ancient Agora and eventually ended up in the

church viewAcropolis carrying a sacred veil dedicated to Athena, the protectress of the city.
The Pompeion survived the test of time in different shapes and sizes for more than 600 hundred years before it was completely destroyed in 267 B.C., when the city was sacked by the barbarians. Its place was soon taken up by an oil - lamb workshop. The so - called exo Keramikos was already used as a graveyard in 1300 B.C. and it remained a burial ground until the end of antiquity, soon becoming the most important cemetery in the city. The public graves the city itself used to erect for the most prominent citizens of the Athenian State was outside the Dipylon.
The area was mostly taken up by graves and memorial monuments carefully arranged along the curbs of the two processional roads. This graveyard must have laid some of the most prominent citizens of the city of Athens to rest, such as Cleisthenes, Pericles, Thracybulus and Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the murderers of the tyrant Hippias. War heroes, who sacrificed their lives for the city were probably buried here as well. One can only imagine Pericles delivering his famous eulogy in honor of the Athenian soldiers who fell during the first year of the Peloponnesian War. The only tomb that has managed to survive the test of time is the group grave of the Lacedaemonians, who lost their lives in Piraeus in 403 B.C. The beginning of the Sacred Way (Iera Odos) along with all its side streets, are surrounded by funerary monuments erected by wealthy families in the 4th century B.C. Some of the most original grave steles, rare specimens of unique craftsmanship, are now exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum. These plastercasts will give visitors a small idea of what these roads must have been like all those years ago. During the ancient times this area must have looked like a regular open - air sculpting gallery, where visitors would have been able to follow the artistic evolution of the most productive period of sculpture in the vicinity of Attica. Wealthy families must have surely spent entire fortunes on hiring the best sculptors around to embellish their family graves with immortal funerary monuments.

This exhibitionistic trend didn’t last very long. Demetrios Falireas, an orator and philosopher who the Macedonians had appointed governor of Athens, issued a decree in 317 B.C. forbidding Athenians to erect any more luxurious funerary monuments. From then on the exquisite grave steles were to give their place to humble little columns that would simply state the name and the birthplace of the deceased. Outside the walls of the city there were also lots of ceramic workshops around, as well as a valanio (baths). Both of the facilities were supplied with water by the river of Iridanos that used to flow through the area. The location of these baths was very convenient because it served passers - by and travelers who wanted to visit Athens but preferred to freshen up before they entered the city. A raid led by the Roman general Sullas in 86 B.C. destroyed Keramikos completely, regardless of how good a fight the Athenians put up. The area soon started to deteriorate and it all went downhill since. The renovations carried out during the period of the Roman emperor Handrian restored some of its old grandeur, but everything was destroyed all over again when the Herulae invaded the city in 267 B.C. Much to the surprise of everyone, the potters that had given their name to this once beautiful neighborhood returned to the area after the city was sacked and opened up new workshops before this ancient demos (municipality) disappeared into the obscurity of the Middle Ages.