Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery ΑΡΧΑΙΟ ΝΕΚΡΟΤΑΦΕΙΟ ΚΕΡΑΜΕΙΚΟΥ
The ancient district of Kerameikos was located in the northwestern outskirts of Athens as it then was. It was partly enclosed by, and partly beyond, the walls that divide the area of the excavation. In the center of the archaeological site are the two best known arches of ancient Athens, the Dipylon, where the Panathenaic procession would start, and the Sacred Arch, where the sacred way would begin and the Eleusinian Mysteries procession would pass through. In the vicinity of the arches was the most ancient and the biggest cemetery of Attica. Moreover, it was the necropolis, the place of burial of citizens who were honored by the city of Athens.
Photos courtesy John Vellis
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 (Municipality) 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.
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.