Ancient Athens's most famous cemetery, just outside the city walls, is a lovely spot. Many handsome monuments from the 4th century B.C. and later line the Street of the Tombs, which has relatively few visitors. You can sit quietly and imagine Pericles putting the final touches on his Funeral Oration for the Athenian soldiers killed during the first year of fighting in the Peloponnesian War. Athens, Pericles said, was the "school of Hellas" and a "pattern to others rather than an imitator of any." Offering comfort to the families of the fallen, he urged the widows to remember that the greatest glory belonged to the woman who was "least talked of among men either for good or for bad" -- which must have caused a few snickers, since Pericles's mistress, Aspasia, was the subject of considerable gossip.

Ancient Greek words often hide in familiar English words, and that's true of Kerameikos. The name honors the hero Keramos, who was something of a patron saint of potters, giving his name both to the ceramics made here and to the district itself. The Kerameikos was a major crossroads in antiquity, rather like today's Omonia Square. You can see remains of the massive Dipylon Gate, where most roads converged, and the Sacred Gate, where marchers in the Panathenaic Festival gathered before heading through the Ancient Agora and climbing to the Parthenon. What you can't see are the remains of Plato's Academy, which was in this district but has thus far eluded archaeologists. The well-preserved statue of a kouros, found in the Kerameikos in 2000, is in the Kerameikos Museum, along with photos showing its discovery.

The Oberlaender Museum, with a collection of finds from the Kerameikos, including terra-cotta figurines, vases, and funerary sculptures, is usually open when the site is. Be sure to see the handsome classical statue of a youth known as the Kerameikos Kouros, and the lion and sphinx pieces. You may also want to visit Athens's enormous First Cemetery, near Athens Stadium; it has acres of monuments, many as elaborate as anything you'll see at the Kerameikos.