On the Road to Delphi (Part 1)

6 September 2022. Kerameikos.

Last night when we returned to the Airbnb from dinner, we busied ourselves packing as much stuff as we could in preparation for our car trip to Delphi today. Upon awakening, we packed the remainder of our gear so that we would be ready to depart immediately for the airport upon our return from our last tourist stop in Athens – the cemetery of Kerameikos. We hopped a taxi for the cemetery, and it dropped us off on the street outside the entrance.

Exquisite graffiti mural on the outer wall of the Kerameikos Museum facing Ermou Street.

Kerameikos is named for the potters’ quarters that at one time were located in this area of Athens. In Classical times it was also a cemetery, a ritual space, and the main entrance to the polis of Athens. Two major roads pass through this zone: the Sacred Way and the main road, known as the Ancient Road to Plato’s Academy.

Map of Kerameikos Cemetery (North is top). Image credit: http://www.planetware.com. Copyright © Baedeker.

The Sacred Way ran from the Eleusinion near the Acropolis out of the Sacred Gate and to the Telesterion at Eleusis, and the main road exited the city through the Dipylon Gate in the Themistoclean city wall. The Dipylon Gate and road was also used for the Panathenaic Way which led to the Acropolis. The cemetery itself is located outside the Themistoclean Wall along the Street of Tombs that splits off from the Sacred Way, the Sacred Way itself, and the Academy Road.

The Southern portion of Kerameikos, looking northeast. The Themistoclean wall runs left to right through the center of the photo above. The Sacred Road is located center left through the wall. The Pompeion, which was used as the starting point of the parade (pompe) of the Panathenia, is located on the other side of the wall to the left of the Sacred Road. To the left of the Pompeion is the Ancient Road to Plato’s Academy and the Dipylon Gate.
Portion of the Themistoclean wall looking southwest. The marble altar (see photo, right) is located out of frame, right.
Marble altar dedicated to as-yet unknown God(s), located just outside the Sacred Gate on the Sacred Way.
The Ancient Road to the Academy, looking north. Burial tumuli are located to the left. The area to the right of the road remains unexcavated. The open square to the left may be the location where Pericles gave his famous funeral oration.

“Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors’, but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.”

Excerpt from: Thucydides, “Pericles’ Funeral Oration,” spoken at Kerameikos at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War ca. 430 BCE

Where the Sacred Way splits to become the Sacred Way and the Street of Tombs is located the Tritopatreion, or shrine of the Tritopatres (Τριτοπάτορες), where the Athenians worshipped their ancestors. A sacred temenos forbidden to the living enclosed a grove of olive trees dedicated to the dead. A tumulus located to the north of the temenos was provided with a vothros pit for making libation offerings to the dead. See photos, below.

The Street of Tombs contains many funerary monuments to individuals from wealthy families of the 5th to 4th centuries BCE. Some of the statuary has been replicated, with the originals having been removed to displays in the Kerameikos Museum where they are protected from the weather. See photos, below.

The Kerameikos Museum holds a large collection of funerary statuary and steles, as well as other materials such as pottery, lead curse tablets, and burial offerings uncovered during archaeological excavations in the area. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations during our visit to the site. However, we were able to explore the relics on display around the exterior of the museum (see photos below). We were also able to spend a few minutes in the gift shop, as well as pet a very friendly kitty who demanded (and received) our obeisance.

Fir tree outside the Kerameikos Museum.
I did manage to pick up a souvenir guide to the site at the gift shop.

It’s just as well that the museum was closed. We were running late and had to get back to the Airbnb to meet the taxi that was taking us to the airport to pick up our rental car. As it was, we arrived after our taxi did and had to hurry upstairs to grab our bags. Once at the airport, we went through the usual rigmarole to get a car, including upgrading it to a larger size to accommodate four adult gay men and our luggage. The agent looked at us and our luggage and gave a sardonic head shake when we asked if the mid-sized SUV we had reserved was big enough – something that I had feared. But it was all squared away for an extra €8 a day. We mounted up and then it was off to Delphi, with multiple stops along the way.

— Να εχεις μια ωραια μερα. —

One response to “On the Road to Delphi (Part 1)”

  1. […] roads. Because of this, the drive to Elefsina from Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens (where we picked up the rental car after our trip to Kerameikos) went smoothly. Road signs in Greece are frequently spaced and printed in both Greek and […]

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