As part of the ongoing Museums Cycle publication programme, the Latsis family has presented ‘Kerameikos’, an illustrated book detailing the archaeological site and museum located in Athens, through the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation. Following the death of founder John S. Latsis in 2003, the Foundation has operated under a supervisory board consisting of his family – wife Henrietta Latsis (formerly Tsoukala) and his three children Margarita, Marianna and Spiro, implementing new initiatives within Greece and globally including the “It Is Our Duty” programme headed by Spiro Latsis which offers food aid to socioeconomically vulnerable persons within the country. The Museums Cycle range of publications aims to bring knowledge to readers and offer a different perspective on some of the most famous museums in Greece along with several perhaps lesser known museums and historical locations. The new publication showcases both the museum and archaeological site at Kerameikos through the medium of rich illustrations backed up by well-researched scientific texts and scrupulous editorial production. Kerameikos will be made widely available within Greece, with gratis editions being presented to universities, research centres, other relevant museums and the Ministry of Culture and Sports. On top of this, further gratis editions will be distributed to important global institutions including the Library of Alexandria, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford University and many more. It is hoped by the various contributors to the book that it will help raise awareness and therefore funding for Kerameikos which will in turn trigger further development of the site.
History of Kerameikos
Kerameikos is a region of Athens located to the North and West of the Acropolis. Archaeological excavations have revealed that the area was used as a cemetery as far back as the third millennium BC and an organised cemetery from approximately 1200BC. Over the millennia the cemetery has been expanded and following the creation of the then new city wall in 478BC the Sacred Way was formed, with all funerary sculptures being carved built directly within the city wall on the orders of Themistocles. The Street of Tombs was lined with the imposing mausoleums and monuments of the rich ancient Athenians until a decree banning such extravagance was issued in 317BC, following which smaller columns and marble gravestones were used.
Covering an extensive area which encompasses land both within and without the ancient city walls, this site was once known as the potter’s quarter and named as such – Kerameikos is derived from kéramos, which translates as ‘pottery clay’ and is the root of the English word ceramic. Archaeological excavations began in the area as far back as 1870, originally under the auspices of the Greek Archaeological Society and later under the German Archaeological Institute located in Athens, from where they continue to this day. Many valuable artefacts and sites of vast historical significance have been uncovered, including the discovery of around a thousand tombs from the fourth and fifth centuries BC and a plague pit dating back to 430BC. One of the more recent findings is a large Kouros standing at 2.1m, a larger twin of the one currently housed in the New York Met and both created by the same unknown sculptor who has simply been named ‘The Dipylon Master’.
The Museum at Kerameikos, Ermou, Athens 125, houses the largest collection of Greek burial-related artefacts. Larger sculptures are displayed in inner and outer courtyards, while the internal rooms are full of funerary urns, jewellery, stelae, toys and more. Visitors can also take a walk down the first few blocks of the ancient Sacred Way, explore the Outer Kerameikos ruins, see the remains of both the Pompeion building and the Dipylon Gate and more. All monument sculptures displayed within the museum are original pieces which have been replaced in situ with plaster replicas.
The Kerameikos publication was presented by the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation on December 8th 2014, as the latest edition of the Museums Cycle series of publications which was established in 1997. The intention behind this particular publication was to highlight the lesser-known monuments of Kerameikos including many which are not currently on display due to lack of space but which are nonetheless significant. The volume consists of 405 images over 330 pages with a foreword by Marianna Latsis on behalf of the Latsis family.
The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation
The entrepreneur and shipping magnate John S. Latsis enjoyed a highly successful career which was from an early stage accompanied by public benefit work inspired by his humanitarian principles and keen sense of morality and social responsibility. Public benefit initiatives were performed by John S. Latsis in a variety of ways according to the particular needs of each circumstance. For those projects which required long-term, regulated funding he set up foundations, the very first of which was the Ileians Scholarships Foundation which has provided ongoing funding for students since 1967. John S. Latsis also felt a keen sense of social responsibility which led him to involve himself in emergency situations within Greece, offering aid and assistance wherever possible. On one notable occasion, he lodged over a thousand citizens on his cruise ship for a two year period while areas were being rebuilt after the Kalamata earthquakes which hit during 1986. Since the death of John S. Latsis at the age of 93, his good works have been continued by his remaining family: son Spiro Latsis, daughters Marianna and Margarita Latsis and widow Henrietta Latsis.