Kerameikos area en Dipylon-gate

The Kerameikos is named after the district of the potters, which in ancient times was located near the city wall on the river Eridanos. The potters (and bronze casters) had a heros as their “guardian god” called Keramos, after whom the district is named.



The city gate (Dipylon)
Athens was protected by a large city wall with 15 city gates. The ‘Dipylon’ (in the northwest of the city) was the most important of these 15 gates. This was the only double gate, while next to it was a second gate, the so-called “Holy Gate”. These gates were imposing and best reinforced of all city gates. The gates lay in the back, so that the enemy had to go through the walls during a storm. The Dipylon also had the largest courtyard compared to other city gates. The courtyard was 22 x 41 meters. The gate was so large and important, among other things, because during the Panathenaic procession for daylight, people gathered at this gate in the Pompeion (the “procession building”). From the Pompeion, the procession, the most important religious festival of ancient Athens, passed via the Panathenaic Way, over the agora, to the Acropolis, where the ancient statue of the goddess Athens was presented with a new peplos.


Image above, the Dipylon and the Holy Gate, drawing from Ancient City, P. Conolly and H. Dodge, Cologne 1998.

Top left, the Pompeion, right floor plan. 1. Grave Circle, 2. Moat, 3. Eridanos River, 4. Sacred Way, 5. Holy Gate, 6. Dipylon Gate, 7. Pompeion, 8. Altar and Well House.


People used to be buried outside the city. Outside the Dipylon Gate, on both sides of the two roads leading out of the city was the official Athens burial site, used from the 9th century BC. until Roman times. This cemetery is named after the Kerameikos district, near the cemetery.
This cemetery has been the final resting place for many celebrities. However, not only Athenian civilians were buried here, but also so-called metoiken, citizens who came from other parts of Greece, but who lived in Athens. The very first graves in the Kerameikos consist of a simple burial mound. About 800 BC, these tombs were built. These walls were decorated with very high geometric vases of monumental value. These are called Dipylon vases. Most vases are 1 to 1.5 meters high. They have no bottom, so the libation could easily penetrate into the grave. The vases are richly decorated with geometric bands, figures and meanders. Abstract, stylized representations of people and animals or scenes from a funeral ritual can also be found on these vases. The well-known Dipylon craters are grave vases depicting the funeral of a deceased person. These can still be seen in the Kerameikos Museum and in the National Museum.
Very rich families thought it could all be a bit more impressive and started to have statues made for their family graves. One of the most beautiful statues is a very early kouros (young man), dating from 600 BC. and found on April 5, 2002, attributed to the Dipylon artist, whose statues had previously been found. Later they also added epigrams to these images. But this was no longer allowed in the second half of the 5th century BC. At that time, such luxury around a grave was not considered necessary. That is why the Athenians had special tombstones placed between 430 and 338 BC, with the image of the deceased, often in the form of a small temple, the so-called naiskoi. In 317 BC. all luxury at grave monuments was strictly forbidden. Only kioniskoi (small, round, unadorned columns) were allowed.
After the funeral (or cremation), libations were brought to the deceased, after which everyone was allowed to return home. However, the family members had to undergo long cleansing rites, because the Greeks believed that everything that had come into contact with the dead was unclean and had to be ritually cleansed. Later grave rituals were regularly held.


Right: white-colored Lekythoi, the type of crockery commonly used at funerals.

From left to right, a Dipylon vase from the NAM, the famous Hegeso tombstone (around 410 BC) and a 5th century tombstone from Salamis, NAM. Below, two mourners at a grave. Notice how the girl decorated the tomb with all kinds of ribbons, and that there are many Lekythoi around the tomb. Image of a white-colored Lekythos in the NAM