New guide out on the fascinating art of Athens’s First Ceme­tery

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY MAR­GARITA POURNARA

In Greek, the words for mon­u­ment (mn­imeio) and tomb (mn­ima) both come from the word “mn­imi,” or mem­ory, mak­ing ceme­ter­ies places where death, life and con­ti­nu­ity are cel­e­brated. And while other coun­tries make sure to main­tain their big­gest ceme­ter­ies in a state of per­fec­tion and to de­velop them for tourism – like the Pere Lachaise in Paris, for ex­am­ple – in Greece, the coun­try’s most im­por­tant ceme­tery, Athens First Ceme­tery, has for years been ne­glected by au­thor­i­ties.

While there are nu­mer­ous cof­fee-ta­ble and other such books on the ceme­tery, there has never been a com­pre­hen­sive a guide for peo­ple in­ter­ested in its out­door sculp­ture and the em­i­nent men and women of pol­i­tics, the sci­ences, the arts and the letters who are buried there.

This, how­ever, is no longer the case, thanks to Olkos pub­li­ca­tions, which re­cently re­leased an up-to-date and user­friendly guide of 170 pages, com­pris­ing texts by Athens Uni­ver­sity Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus Kar­damit­sis-Adami Maro and ar­chi­tect Maria Daniil, and pho­tographs by the ar­chi­tect and pho­tog­ra­pher Yior­gis Yerolym­bos.

The guide is an ini­tia­tive of the Hel­lenic So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of the En­vi­ron­ment and Cul­tural Her­itage, which has done some amaz­ing work in na­ture con­ser­va­tion and in the restora­tion of im­por­tant his­toric build­ings.

But what is so in­ter­est­ing about this guide to the First Ceme­tery? First and fore­most, the maps that show the num­ber of each grave site and help vis­i­tors lo­cate those that are most valu­able from an artis­tic or his­tor­i­cal point of view – any­one who has been there knows how hec­tic the lay­out is.

Athens First Ceme­tery was es­tab­lished by royal decree in 1837 and has been in con­tin­u­ous op­er­a­tion for the en­tire 180 years since. It was ex­panded in the 1940s to in­clude a sec­tion for Protes­tants and Jews, while there are also many Catholics in the Protes­tant sec­tion.

The Olkos guide pro­vides valu­able in­for­ma­tion on its his­tory, but also ex­ten­sive ref­er­ences and ex­plana­tory texts on the art of great sculp­tors or crafts­men that adorns many of the burial site.

Apart from the em­blem­atic “Sleep­ing Girl” by Yian­noulis Halepas (which will likely be re­moved for preser­va­tion to the Na­tional Sculp­ture Gallery), there are 1,000 other re­mark­able sculp­tures, tem­ples, tomb­stones and mon­u­ments cre­ated by cel­e­brated Greek artists of the past and present. There are also works by ac­claimed architects such as Lysan­dros Kaf­tant­zoglou, Ernst Ziller, Theophil Hansen and Aris Kon­stan­tini­dis.

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