There are many small entries in tour guides about the First Cemetery of Athens. All mention its park-like setting and that many distinguished Greeks have been buried there since its inception in 1834. A short list of worthies usually follows and one or two sculptures of note such as Chalepas’ sleeping lady are mentioned. That’s about it.
A visitor’s only on-site guide a small map tacked up at the entrance offering section numbers and a puzzling numbering system, both of which grew like Topsy as the cemetery expanded. There is no indication at all of who is buried or where. Even if you are already aware that Theodoros Kolokotronis , Alexandros Mavrokordatos, George Seferis, Odysseas Elytis, Heinrich Schliemann, or Melina Mercouri are buried in the First Cemetery you will not find their graves unless you are remarkably persistent or very lucky. (In the future, we would like to create a comprehensive map for our blog and encourage the city fathers to create one as well.)
Many tombs are genuine works of art. But, whether grand, simple, touching, or merely eccentric, they all reflect in marble or stone what the dead person (or his family) or the state in the case of national heroes considered a fitting memorial.
Because this cemetery started and grew along with the new capital city, many graves reflect a self awareness of their role in representing the ‘nation’ and its aspirations. has been evident from its inception. They were made to be seen and admired; they should be seen and admired.
Our aim to offer a helpful guide to the visitor complete with maps pinpointing individual graves, a short history of the person buried there and, where applicable, a few comments on the graves themselves.
We first had to explore the cemetery and locate the graves (an ongoing project) – not always easy we can assure you - and then choose whom in this vast city of the dead we would discuss and how. But the actual burials are the real definers of our parameters– not every prominent person is buried here, but enough are to justify Demitrios’ Vikelas’ remark that the cemetery is pantheon of modern Greece.
Going from the singular to the plural has turned out to be more interesting than we anticipated. Our chosen cast of characters (affectionately known to us as our dead darlings) have led us to some quirky and obscure corners of a history that we thought we already knew; we want to share what we found.
The blog will start with a section on the cemetery itself, the Heroes of the War of Independence, move into a discussion of Nineteenth Century Movers and Shakers, politicians, and also include an extensive section on the wonderful sculptors who created it all. If all goes well, we will move into the 20th and Twenty First Century, choosing our ‘categories’ as we go. (Since lives are more complex than mere categories, a figure may be listed under two or even more. The names index just under the blog heading will identify each grave.) We aim to be flexible, open to comments, and to make additions if new discoveries come to light. This is an ongoing project.
Nor is the blog just for visitors in real time although the cemetery should certainly be visited if you are lucky enough to be in Athens, and visited many times if you live there. Our blog aims to be virtual as well – to provide anyone with a computer at home and an interest in Greek history plenty of photographs and a perspective on the people buried there, complete with an index that encourages you to learn in digestible bite sized pieces (hopefully along with a glass of wine).