18.2.17

Kerameikos

Northwest of Acropolis, Kerameikos used to be the potters’ quarters of the city in ancient times (“keramos” means pottery-clay, from which the English word “ceramic” is also derived). It was also the site of an important cemetery. In modern times, the site houses a museum with the most extensive collection of funereal artifacts in Greece, from urns to jewellery.

Keramikos (Greek: Κεραμεικός), also known by its Latinized form Ceramicus, is an area of Athens, Greece, located to the northwest of the Acropolis, which includes an extensive area both within and outside the ancient city walls, on both sides of the Dipylon (Δίπυλον) Gate and by the banks of the Eridanos River. It was the potters' quarter of the city, from which the English word "ceramic" is derived, and was also the site of an important cemetery and numerous funerary sculptures erected along the road out of the city towards Eleusis.
According to the geographer Pausanias, the location was named after Keramos. However, the place was most likely named after the neighborhood of the kerameis (potters). (The definition of Kerameikos is of something related to ceramics or potters). The neighborhood of the potters, the tile kiln makers, was established on the banks of the river Eridanos. One can see the riverbed in the archaeological area. The ancient Demos of Kerameikos covered a large area. Only part of it has been unearthed in excavations. It is thought that the area of the Kerameikos was bounded on one side by the northwestern perimeter of the Agora.
Recently, archaeologists discovered within the Kerameikos excavation site, and located in the Temple of Artemis Sotera, an oracle well, which is at least 1,800-years-old and may be the oldest ancient oracle to Apollo found in Athens. 
The area around the sanctuary is still watered by the Eridanos River, which flows through the city from east to west. The oracle well was used for hydromancy, a method of divination by means of water.
​​The oracle well was walled with clay cylinders. The researchers discovered a number of inscriptions in Greek. All of them included the same phrase:  "Come to me, O Paean, and bring with you the true oracle". The word ''Paean" is the epithet designated to Apollo, the male deity associated with art, purification and oracular activity.
The omphalos, found to cover the opening of the ancient well dedicated to Apollo within Kerameikos.

Researchers discovered that an omphalos, made from stone, had been meticulously mounted on a marble slab that, in turn, covered an opening. It was lifted using a crane and the circular well was found below. An omphalos is a powerful symbolic artifact, considered to be the ‘navel of the world’, the central point from which terrestrial life originated and an object of religious symbolism believed to allow direct communication with the gods.
Archaeologists also researched a 2,500-year-old bathhouse in use between the 5th and the 3rd c. BC. The bathhouse served the citizens of Athens and the travelers alike. It was often used by the students of Plato's Academy, as well as the craftsmen. Researchers believe that it is the spa mentioned by the Greek orator Isaios, and referred to by Aristophanes.

History
The archaeological site of the Kerameikos, between Ermou, Peireos, and Asomaton Streets, is a small part of the ancient Attic Deme of Kerameon, one of the largest demes of ancient Athens, located on the northwest edge of the city. As suggested by its name, the Kerameikos (from the Greek word for pottery) was a settlement of potters and vase painters, and the main production centre of the famous Attic vases. Those parts of the Kerameikos that were located near the riverbank suffered continuously from the overflowing river, and so the area was converted into a burial ground, which gradually developed into the most important cemetery of ancient Athens. 

Potters were drawn to the Kerameikos by the clay deposits of the Iridanos, the small river that runs through the Kerameikos archaeological site. The river lay buried for centuries under eight or nine meters of landfill (level of Ermou Street), but was uncovered again in the 1960's during the archaeological excavations. 

The earliest tombs at the Kerameikos date from the Early Bronze Age (2700-2000 BC), and the cemetery appears to have continuously expanded from the sub-Mycenaean period (1100-1000 BC). In the Geometric (1000-700 BC) and Archaic periods (700-480 BC) the number of tombs increased; they were arranged inside tumuli or marked by funerary monuments. The cemetery was used incessantly from the Hellenistic period until the Early Christian period (338 BC until approximately the sixth century AD). 

The most important Athenian vases come from the tombs of the Kerameikos. Among them is the famous “Dipylon Oinochoe”, which bears the earliest inscription written in the Greek alphabet (second half of the eighth century BC). The Kerameikos excavations began in 1870 under St. Koumanoudis of the Archaeological Society of Athens. They continued in collaboration with the German archaeologists A. Brueckner and F. Noack over the next few decades, and are carried out by the German Archaeological Institute since 1913.

The site is regularly cleared of undergrowth. A set of projects, such as the construction of a network of visitor paths, the restoration of buildings, the re-opening of the Kerameikos Museum, the placement of informative signposts, and the construction of an amphitheatre, were completed in 2004. Moreover, recent expropriations of neighbouring land plots are expected to expand the site and allow further excavations to take place in the future. The site's small museum houses the finds from the Kerameikos excavations.

Description
The archaeological site of the Kerameikos comprises part of the Themistoclean Wall, the Dipylon Gate and Sacred Gate, the Pompeion, the burial enclosure of the Stele of Hegeso, the Demosion Sema, and other well-known monuments. The entrance to the approximately eleven acre archaeological site is located on Ermou Street. 

The Themistoclean wall was built hastily in 478 BC, after the Persian retreat, in order to protect the city from the Spartan threat. It surrounded the entire ancient city of Athens and divided the Kerameikos into two sections, inner and outer Kerameikos. Inner Kerameikos (inside the city walls) developed into a residential neighbourhood, whereas outer Kerameikos remained a cemetery. The section of the wall that crossed the Kerameikos in a N-S direction is preserved to this day, together with two important gates, the Dipylon, the largest and most formal Athenian gate, and the Sacred Gate. 

Two important roads, the road leading to Plato's Academy and the Sacred Way (Iera Odos), which connected Athens with Eleusis, began at the Dipylon and Sacred Gate (Iera Pyli) respectively. 
The Tripopatréion on the Sacred Way (road to Eleusis)

The Sacred Gate was the starting point for the procession of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the Dipylon the starting point of the Panathenaic procession, which moved along the Panathenaic Way towards the Acropolis. The preparations for the Panathenaic procession took place inside the Pompeion, a large building with peristyle court, located directly behind the wall, next to the Dipylon. The building dates from the end of the fifth century BC. 

In the Classical period (fifth-fourth centuries BC) the streets were lined with cemeteries and funerary monuments, mostly of families and often decorated with reliefs. Some of the best-known funerary monuments are the Tomb of Dexileo, the Stele of Hegeso (c. 400 BC), the Relief of Demetria and Pamphile, and the marble bull from the funerary enclosure of Dionysios of Kollytos (c. 345 BC). 
Road to the Platonic Academy

Outside the Dipylon, along the street leading to Plato's Academy, lay the Demosion Sema, or Public Cemetery, the burial place of Athenian notables and war heroes. This is where Pericles delivered his famous Funeral Oration for those who died during the first year of the Peloponnesian War (430 BC).

Excavations
Archaeological excavations in the Kerameikos began in 1870 under the auspices of the Greek Archaeological Society. They have continued from 1913 to the present day under the German Archaeological Institute at Athens.

During the construction of Kerameikos station for the expanded Athens Metro, a plague pit and approximately 1,000 tombs from the 4th and 5th centuries BC were discovered. The Greek archaeologist Efi Baziotopoulou-Valavani, who excavated the site, has dated the grave to between 430 and 426 BC. Thucydides described the panic caused by the plague, possibly an epidemic of typhoid which struck the besieged city in 430 BC. The epidemic lasted for two years and killed an estimated one third of the population. He wrote that bodies were abandoned in temples and streets, to be subsequently collected and hastily buried. The disease reappeared in the winter of 427 BC.
Modern replicas of the burial monuments for Hegeso, daughter of Proxenios, and for Koroibos.

Latest findings in the Kerameikos include the excavation of a 2.1 m tall Kouros, unearthed by the German Archaeological Institute at Athens under the direction of Professor Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier. This Kouros is the larger twin of the one now kept in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and both were made by the same anonymous sculptor called the "Dipylon Master".

Large areas adjacent to those already excavated remain in to be explored, as they lie under the fabric of modern-day Athens. Expropriation of these areas has been delayed until funding is secured.


Source/Photography/Bibliography

Hans Rupprecht Goette, Athens, Attica and the Megarid: An Archaeological Guide, p. 59
Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier: Der Kuros vom Heiligen Tor. Überraschende Neufunde archaischer Skulptur im Kerameikos in Athen. Zabern, Mainz 2002. (Zaberns Bildbände zur Archäologie) ISBN 3-8053-2956-3
Akten des Internationalen Symposions Die Ausgrabungen im Kerameikos, Bilanz und Perspektiven. Athen, 27.–31. Januar 1999. Zabern, Mainz am Rhein 2001. (Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Athenische Abteilung, 114) ISBN 3-8053-2808-7
Ursula Knigge: Der Kerameikos von Athen. Führung durch Ausgrabungen und Geschichte. Krene-Verl., Athen 1988.

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