Saturday, May 5, 2012
First Cemetery, Athens, Greece
The First Cemetery of Athens (Greek: Πρώτο Νεκροταφείο Αθηνών) is an oasis of peace and calm in the noisy, frenetic city. It covers an area of about 500x500 m, a green space of pines, cypresses, and narrow walkways. Many heroes of the 1820s War of Independence are interred here, as are other notables of Greek society, prime ministers, poets, archaeologists, and prominent foreigners. The tomb of Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy, is here. Most of the interred were Greek Orthodox, but there is a Catholic church on the grounds, and separate areas are reserved for Protestants and Jews.
Located southeast of downtown in what is now a mixed residential and small-shop district, the cemetery is at the end of Anapafseos Street (Eternal Rest Street - what an appropriate name!). Your initial approach is a bit discouraging. Parking is always a chore, and the entrance area is a bit grubby and looks well-used. The severe marble colonnaded entrance is not very classical-looking.
Once inside it is more peaceful, and the wide marble plaza is lined with cypress trees. The temple you see on the left is Schliemann's tomb.
No one bothers you, and you can spend hours walking the shaded lanes between tombs and statues.
The statuary is beautiful and much is of white Pendelian marble (the same micro-crystalline marble used on the Parthenon). Notice the owl, an ancient symbol of the dead.
This is the famous "sleeping Girl," the Tomb of Sofia Afentaki, a work by the sculptor Yannoulis Chalepas from Tinos. Tinos, an island in the Cyclades, has a famous carving school, and many of its graduates have worked around the world.
The lion has an almost Egyptian look.
Some prominent British diplomats who supported Greek independence are also here.
Space is at a premium, and many family tombs or monuments contain bones of multiple generations. Any day, but especially on holidays and Sundays, you will see family members cleaning the walks near their family tombs, disposing of dead flowers, and paying respects. First Cemetery is not on the normal tourist route, but well worthwhile.
All photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera with Olympus 14-54 mm lens, black and white processed in-camera. Map drawn with ESRI ArcMap software.