Thursday, May 03, 2012

Kerameikos 1: Gates, Roads and Wall

Athens, like Rome, contracted after its hey-day. Sometime in the middle of the first century BC it was depopulated. People moved from the hills and settled in the lowlands around the Greek and Roman agoras. This is why some of the most historical parts of Athens are park lands now, and it is possible to see the tombs and shrines without digging into someone's basement or demolishing a swathe of houses. This is the view from the Pnyx - where the Athenians had their assemblies.

The Kermeikos part of the city is different. It is where the potters lived (where the English 'ceramics' comes from) and it is still in the busy part of the city. It was also where two of the most roads entered the city, and site of the most important ancient cemetery.

There is a plan outside

but it is difficult to hold in the head. Once inside here is a jumble of outlines (this is the area just outside the city walls between the two roads)

and it took me sometime to orientate myself. But gradually things stood out ad began to make sense. These are the remains of the Pompeion

- the place where people assembled materials and prepared to take part in the Panathenaian procession from the adjacent Thriasian (Dipylon) Gate (this is part of the wing of the wall leading to the gate)

along the Panathenaian Way

to the Acropolis.

This Great Panathenaia took place every four years in the middle of August and was the most important festival Ancient Athens. It is thought that the it is this procession that is depicted along the cella (the internal building) of the Parthenon.

The Pananthenaian Way was also known as Kerameikos Street and led not only to Plato's Academy but also the Thriasian plain, the Peloponnese peninsula and the rest of Greece. The first section of the road was also known as the Demosion Sema and this is where all the important burials took place.

The gate itself was one of the largest in the Ancient world and cunningly built. The entrance was through a courtyard which conveniently enclosed a would-be attacker leaving them exposed on every side by the city's defenders on the balustrades above.

On the other side of the Pompeion is another gate of similar design, this one called the Sacred Gate

because it served the Sacred Way,

and here it is possible to see the steps which would have led to the top of the tower.

The Sacred Way joined up with the Panathenaian Way, and along this yet other processions took place through the Sacred Gate to Eleusis. These were called the celebrations of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries during which the Mysteries were revealed to initiates at Demeter's Shrine. These took place every five years, also in the late summer. Presumably, some years the Great Mysteries and the Great Panathenaia clashed which must have been a little like 2012's clash of the Olympics and the Queen's Jubilee - very expensive and an excuse for lots of public holidays. There also Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries and ordinary Panathenaea which took place every year. Athens was a place that had lots of festivals.

The Sacred Gate was made more complicated because it had to incorporate the Erdanos River.

This seems a rather grandiose term for something that turns out to be something of a dribble, but apparently it used to be much larger, its drainage disrupted during building works.

Also joining the two was the city wall. The original was built by Themistokles in 478 BC replacing a smaller wall and enclosing more of the city.

It was added to several times in response to threats and after battles, the final renovation by the Roman emperor Justinian in around the 6th century AD.

That is my general outline of the district of Kerameikos, but there is a lot more to it than this. I am going to try and cover other aspects in other posts. I found it to be a particularly fascinating part of Athens.


Anonymous marly youmans said...

Oh, so you are traveling in books this time! Very good. I shall come along... For a moment, I thought you were there!

Sat May 05, 09:17:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, thought it would make a change...kind of. Thanks, Marly.

Sun May 06, 09:02:00 am  

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