Tuesday, 6 March 2012


Continuing on my post about the First Cemetery of Athens for Julie's Taphophile Tragics meme.

One enters this cemetery through an imposing and rather modern looking gateway, flanked by two angels in wrought iron work. The dome of the Cemetery Church of St Theodore can be seen to the left. This is the largest of three churches in the cemetery. There is also the smaller chapel of St Lazarus and the Catholic chapel.

While we were visiting, we chanced upon a funeral. Space is at a premium in this particular cemetery, and generally only very famous people or family members with existing family mausolea can be interred here.

Traditionally, funeral wreaths are only given by close relatives and friends, and these wreaths are placed outside the house  with the coffin lid, while the overnight wake with the open coffin is held in the house of the deceased. The wreaths are then taken to the cemetery with the coffin.

The open coffin is placed at the front of the church at the cemetery.  Those friends who have not visited the home file past and offer their condolences to the family before kissing  the forehead of the deceased and laying flowers across the coffin. After the church requiem liturgy finishes, the coffin is sealed and everyone moves out to the cemetery for the burial. The funeral arrangements are looked after by staff of the funeral parlour, who in Greek are called 'κοράκια' (korákia = 'crows') as they normally dress in black suits.

Koliva (also transliterated Kollyva) is a dish of boiled wheat, chopped parsley, ground roasted chick peas, pomegranate grains and sugar, which is used liturgically in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches at funerals and memorial services.  This ritual food is blessed after the memorial Divine Liturgy performed at various intervals after a death; after the funeral; during mnemosyna - memorial services; on the first Friday of the Great Lent. It can be decorated very elaborately with icing sugar and dragées. Here it is seen in a specialist shop in Anapáfseos St ('Repose St') leading to the Cemetery.

Other specialist shops line this approach to the cemetery and offer funerary goods for sale, including lanterns, oil lamps for graves, statuary, gravestones and memorial plaques for graves illustrated here. The photographic portraits of the deceased are special seritypes on porcelain.

And now some more photos of the graves and mausolea at the cemetery. Here is the mausoleum of the Mavromihalis Family.

An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is. One can see the ossuary of the this cemetery in the middle of the photo.

The tombs of A.Ph. Papadakis and P.P Demestichas.

A sphinx flanking the mausoleum of Adamantios Koraïs (1748 – 1833), a famous man of letters.


  1. Very interesting about the different funeral traditions.

  2. What an amazing place...I enjoyed learning about the different traditions preceeding the burial...I imagine the services are quite elaborate.

  3. Very interesting indeed.

  4. Really enjoyed this post learning about customs in other lands! Most of all i loved the statuary! I kept gazing at the smiling sphinx. The clawed paws are so much like a rampant lion! And then there are wings! Amazing mix of ideas!

  5. Great pictures and such an interesting post.

    Herding Cats


  6. This was fascinating. Traditions can be so vastly different and interesting...and confusing.

  7. Really enjoyed this post, Nick. I doubt I would have learned this information if it were not for you.

  8. Great post with so much info. I love the pictures of the unique headstones. It seems like funerals are big business in Greece (as they certainly are here in the US).

  9. weird to me, to have the coffin open.
    that angel at the entrance is really amazing!! very pretty...

  10. I have never seen or heard of Koliva. Thanks for the information. Great post!

  11. Both posts on the First Cemetery of Athens have been eye-openers Nick. Your knowledge is just great. You also have a relaxedm non-didactic style of communicating. Thanks for both.

    I liked the two shots of the funeral 'procession'. My how times change. One of the mourners could be just a back-packer who has wandered into the wrong queue. I wonder what it is that they have in those shopping bags? My only thought is that it could be something like rose petals. That substance upon which they 'feast' reminds me of a muesli bar. Sorry ...

    The new entrance to the cemetery is very grandiose. I wonder if it is just one of the clues to the current Greek malaise ...

  12. Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    Julie, thank you for your kind comment. The backpacker was a tourist who tagged along!
    The koliva are actually much nicer tasting than muesli bars and the combination of parsley and pomegranate seeds with the sweetened wheat is quite amazing.

    The entrance is not actually very new, but point taken about the crisis... See this interesting and enlightening video on the financial woes of Greece (it is in English):



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