Bursting with fascinating history and a vibrant cultural tapestry, Athens is a treasure trove of stories and monuments, an ideal destination for travelers who like to go off the beaten path and discover new sides to their favorite destination. Of its many eras, the 19th century, the days of the Kingdom of Greece, is one of the most often overlooked, and yet it’s also one of the most extraordinary.
From the House of Parliament and the Presidential Mansion (formerly the Old Royal Palace and the Crown Prince’s Palace respectively) to the much celebrated Athenian Trilogy, Zappeion Hall and the Museum of the City of Athens, the city boasts numerous magnificent neoclassical buildings—a testament to the optimism, confidence and flamboyant grandeur at the dawn of the newly independent Greek state
Established in 1837, the First Cemetery of Athens is a gem among gems, an otherworldly 19th century necropolis in the heart of the city that offers visitors a unique opportunity to discover the city’s relationship to art, life and death during the 19th and early 20th century.
The cemetery is the resting place for many of the city’s — and indeed the country’s — most prominent figures. Statesmen, including a number of prime ministers, artists, poets, industrialists, philanthropists, visionaries and famous philhellenes are buried here in marvelously ornate tombs and mausoleums—the most famous of which is, without a doubt, Yiannoulis Halepas’s magnificent “Sleeping Girl” sculpture.
Lined with cypresses and bitter orange trees—with some Greek pines and olive trees thrown in for good measure—the First Cemetery combines the cosmopolitan airs of 19th century Europe with a distinctively Greek spirit, evident in the Orthodox chapels, wandering priests, and winding gravel paths that seem to follow no order but their own. Off the beaten path (but just slightly), this hauntingly beautiful site is a wonderful opportunity to experience an entirely different side of Athens.
Here’s some basic info to help you plan your visit.
Where: The entrance to the First Cemetery is located at 3 Logginou Street, just a few hundred meters from the Panathenaic Stadium and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and just a 15’ stroll from Acropolis Metro Station.
When: The site is open daily, 08:00-17:00 during the winter and 08:00-20:00 the rest of the year.
Cost: Admission to the cemetery is free
Top tip: The terrain can be uneven and, depending on how much you want to explore, the walk through the grounds can be long, so wear comfortable shoes and remember to bring along a bottle of water.
Keep in mind: While a listed a historic monument, this is still a working cemetery with funeral services and burials taking place on a regular basis. Appropriately respectful will be appreciated.
Local legend: According to urban legend, the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of a Nikolaos Batsaris, who worked there as a wreath bearer until his death at age 90. According to the legend, Batsaris accumulated a tidy sum by snatching jobs from his coworkers and to this day wanders the cemetery with a wreath around his neck.
Want to find out more about neoclassical Athens and the Kingdom of Greece? Our Neoclassical Athens private tour is a great way to discover the city’s fabulous neoclassical heritage and the magic and opulence of 19th century Athens.