Kerameikos was a district of ancient Athens that lay partly within the city walls, and partly without, a division that came about only when the walls were built by Themistocles to protect Athens from the rising power of Persia.
The district itself gets its name from the pottery industry concentrated inside the walls, ‘keramos’ meaning potter’s clay. The reason potters settled here is thanks to the River Eridanus, the swampy low banks of which are the source of the clay mud.
Outer Kerameikos, situated in what was once the same swampy fields, was and remained for millennia, the city’s great cemetery.
Funerary monuments and plaques lined the course of the Eridanus and the Sacred Way towards Eleusis; the more famous citizens were buried close by the Sacred Gate that pierced the walls.
The whole area remained vibrantly active for centuries, until the cities of Greece, Athens included, fell before the advancing columns of Avars and Slavs.
Industry ceased, the district was abandoned and Kerameikos was lost to all until the 1860s when the proverbial pick hit the proverbial statue.
Since then excavation and discovery have never ceased. Most of what has been found so far you can see in the Kerameikos Museum, which is worth the visit.
Down the hill from the Museum, you might still find a wistful trace of the River Eridanus.
Kerameikos, Athens – Photos © Rik Freeman – All Rights Reserved.