Volunteers tend to ancient cemetery

It?s kind of hard to believe what?s been happening since last Monday on the corner of Plataion and Leonidou streets, right in the center of the up-and-coming Kerameikos district in downtown Athens. As part of an volunteer initiative, a bulldozer has been tearing down what is left of a few old buildings that are under expropriation and which border a small archaeological site on Salaminos Street that was identified as the ancient public cemetery of Athens, or the ?Demosion Sema.?

The site was uncovered accidentally during the construction of a small open-air theater and it is believed to be an extension of the Ancient Cemetery of Kerameikos, where Athenians used to bury warriors and the city?s eminent public figures in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The site is believed to lie alongside an ancient road, the ?Dromos,? that was 1,100 meters long and 40 meters wide and which ran from the Dipylon in Kerameikos to Plato?s Academy. It was flanked on either side by ornate funerary monuments and it is thought that many of antiquity?s great men, including Pericles, Cleisthenes, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, are buried here.

Despite the significance of this find, the site has remained largely uncelebrated and, since 1997 when it was unearthed, the situation with expropriated buildings in the area has grown worse, leaving the site surrounded by crumbling buildings and dirty lots.

In the absence of Ministry of Culture funds to have the site cleared of old buildings and debris, several local organizations, volunteer groups, cultural associations and individual residents and businesspeople in Kerameikos and nearby Metaxourgeio got together to remedy the situation.

Debris clearing is expected to be completed by Thursday, while the action will end on Sunday, with volunteers forming a small park in the area and organizing a tour to highlight the area?s ancient and modern history.

The volunteers are inviting everyone to join them on Sunday morning and to lend a hand in their efforts.

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