The First Cemetery of Athens: Most of us think of death, mourning, and pain when hearing the word "cemetery" - however, the atmosphere in the First Cemetery of Athens is not quite like that.
Often characterized as an open-air museum, this place houses a plethora of unique sculptures, monuments, and tombs.
Many renowned individuals have been buried here, including artists, politicians, and philanthropists, such as Melina Mercouri, Andreas Papandreou, and Georgios Averof.
It is also one of the largest cemeteries in Europe. Thanks to it, Greece became a member of the European Cemeteries Route in 2011.
The cemetery is not very frequented, especially during spring and summer. Some people pay a visit to admire its cultural side while others prefer to leisurely walk along the greenery.
Cypresses and pines lie around the area, making it ideal for an exhilarating stroll.
The First Cemetery of Athens was established in 1837, shortly after the founding of the modern Greek state.
That makes it the oldest cemetery in modern-day Athens.
Note that burial was forbidden in churches within the city center during the Ottoman dominance so each municipality needed to construct a cemetery at a minimum distance of 100m.
The burial ground was built by Tinos’ craftsmen - an island of the Cyclades complex famous for its marble sculptors - who used the fine marble of Mount Pendeli almost exclusively.
During the 1940s the cemetery was expanded twice to include an area for Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.
The graveyard grew to 222 km2 with over 10,000 family graves and 2.077 tombs.
Sculptures, Monuments, and Tombs of the Cemetery
The First Cemetery of Athens hosts several historical exhibits in terms of architecture and art, as well as some magnificent examples of Romantic and Neoclassical features.
Stunning sculptures are "watching upon" the buried in equally beautiful tombs.
I Koimomeni (Sleeping Maiden) may be the most famous sculpture. It depicts a dead girl and adorns the tomb of Sofia Afentaki, an 18-year-old young lady. The sculpture was created by Yannoulis Chalepas, one of the most well-known modern Greek sculptors, and is located close to Saint Theodore church, the main church of the cemetery. Halepas also happens to be buried in the cemetery.
The Mourning Angel, created by Ioannis Vitsaris, is another famous sculpture in this open-air museum. It’s considered by many as one of the best depictions of real pain. The sculpture adorns the family of Nikolaos Koumelis’ tomb.
Of course, there are many more sculptures to admire, such as the statue of Theodoros Kolokotronis - the hero of the Greek War of Independence - and the Mother of Occupation statue.
Moreover, one of the most interesting exhibits you shouldn’t pass through is Henry Schliemann’s tomb. Schliemann was the archaeologist who discovered Troy and excavated the ancient Mycenae.
His tomb looks like a mausoleum, giving the impression of an ancient Greek temple. It is also decorated with several scenes of the Trojan War.
In addition to Halepas and Schliemann, many other renowned people have the First Cemetery as their eternal home. Some of them include: • Melina Mercouri (Greek politician and actress) and her husband Jules Dassin (film director) • Andreas Papandreou (former prime minister of Greece) • Georgios Averof (philanthropist) • Aliki Vougiouklaki (actress) • Odysseas Elytis (poet) • Georgios Seferis (poet) • Vasilis Tsitsanis (musician) • Ernst Ziller (architect) • Sir Richard Church (general of Greek troops in the War of Independence) • The Goulandris shipping family
The cemetery is open from 08:00 to 20:00 and the entrance is free for everyone.
The First Cemetery of Athens composes a truly tranquil ambiance while holding great historical significance at the same time. Whether you are history obsessed, an art lover, or just enjoy wandering in new places, this cemetery should be on the bucket list of everyone who plans on visiting Athens.
We assure you that this graveyard that mixes the ancient with the modern times will provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll never forget!
Fun Fact: Legend has it that the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of a miserly undertaker who argued with his co-workers about carrying funeral wreaths; today he roams the place with a wreath around his neck!
How to get there
There are many ways to reach the First Cemetery of Athens from any location in Athens.
Private transfers: We recommend using an online pre-booked transfer service, which provides transfer by taxi, minibus, or private VIP car and arranging a pickup directly from the port, airport, or your hotel. Alternatively, there’s the option of arranging a pickup by a local driver directly at the following numbers: (0030) 18288, (0030) 18222, (0030) 18180. You can also book your taxi online.
Car rental: There is the option of renting a car and picking it up directly from the airport, port, or your hotel. Using a rental car allows visitors to discover the First Cemetery and many other places of interest in Athens at their own pace.
On foot: As the First Cemetery is located in a central area of Athens, it can be easily reached on foot from Syntagma Square in approximately 20 minutes.
By bus/trolleybus: The closest bus stop is "A Nekrotafeio". Check the routes and the official timetables on OASA Telematics.
By tram: The closest tram stop is Leoforos Vouliagmenis (Route 6, Syntagma-Pikrodafni). Get a map of the tram here.