Eleusis

Located in West Attica, ancient Eleusis overlooks the bay of Elefsina and the island of Salamis, approximately 17 kilometres from Athens. It was the location of a very important religious centre where the Eleusinian Mysteries took place every year in honour of the goddess Demeter.

Coordinates: 38° 2′ 29.58″ N 23° 32′ 19.94″ E

eleusis

The settlement of Eleusis was founded in the Middle Helladic period (ca. 1900 BC) on the slopes of a hill. Successive settlements were established from the 16th century BC onwards on the summit of the hill where the first temple of Demeter was built in the 15th century BC. The cult of Demeter was introduced during the reign of the legendary King Celeus according to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

According to Greek mythology, the goddess Demeter (in the guise of an old woman) received a hospitable welcome from King Celeus at Eleusis while searching for her daughter Kore (Persephone) who had been abducted by Hades. In return Demeter taught the Eleusinians her secret mysteries. After Kore was returned from the underworld, Demeter made the land fertile again and taught Triptolemos, the son of King Celeus, how to cultivate the earth. He then spread the knowledge throughout Greece.

This is the largest and most important votive relief found at Eleusis. It represents the Eleusinian deities in a scene of mysterious rituel. On the left Demeter, clad in a peplos and holding a scepter in her left hand, offers ears of wheat to Triptolemos, son of Eleusinian king Keleos, to bestow on mankind. On the right Persephone, clad in a chiton and mantle and holding a torch, blesses Triptolemos with her right hand. This relief, dating to c. 440-430 BCE, was apparently famous in antiquity and was copied in the Roman period. (Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece)
The great Eleusinian relief. On the left Demeter offers ears of wheat to Triptolemos, son of Eleusinian king Keleos, to bestow on mankind. On the right Persephone blesses Triptolemos with her right hand.

The cult of Demeter originally started as a local cult but acquired a panhellenic character in the 7th century BC when the Eleusinian Mysteries were established as one of the most important Athenian festivals. The ceremonies were held twice a year. There were two major stages to the rituals known as the “Lesser Mysteries” held each spring, and the “Great Mysteries” held during the months of September and October. The continuity of Demeter’s cult is attested until Roman times by the erection of successive temples on the east side of the hill. Hadrian, himself an initiate, began a major programme of building works with the creation of the Panhellenion.

What the visitor sees today is the sanctuary in its final stages in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The finds from the site are housed in the Eleusis Museum as well as in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Model of the Sanctuary of Eleusis.
Model of the Sanctuary of Eleusis.

PORTFOLIO

The entrance square to the sanctuary, the steps lead up to the Greater Propylaia.
The entrance square to the sanctuary dating to the Roman period and paved with large rectangular marble slabs. The steps lead up to the Greater Propylaia.
Preserved bottom of a fountain, a harmonious marble building with six columns on the facade.
The court was flanked by stoas and a fountain, a harmonious marble building 11 metres in length with six columns on the facade. It was probably built during the reign of Hadrian. Behind the fountain stand the remains of the Eastern Triumphal Arch.
The remains of the Eastern Triumphal Arch built by Antoninus Pius outside the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore.
The remains of the Eastern Triumphal Arch built in Pentelic marble by Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius. It was modelled on the Arch of Hadrian in Athens, like its twin at the west end of the Sanctuary.
Partial reconstruction of the Eastern Triumphal Arch built by Antoninus Pius.
Partial reconstruction of the Eastern Triumphal Arch. Inscriptions revealed that the arches were dedicated to the two Goddesses (Demeter and Persephone) and the emperor Hadrian.
The foundations of the Western Triumphal Arch marking the end of the road from Megara.
The foundations of the Western Triumphal Arch marking the end of the road from Megara. It was a single wide arch with a second storey of columns and an entablature above it.
On the paved court stands the high podium, made of Roman concrete, of the Temple of Artemis of the Portals and Father Poseidon. Built of Pentelic marble before the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it had a front and rear portico with Doric columns.
The remains of the Temple of Artemis Propylaia and Poseidon Pater standing on the paved court on a the high podium. Built of Pentelic marble during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it had a front and rear portico with Doric columns.
The Greater Propylaea, a monumental gate probably built by Marcus Aurelius on the same site as an earlier gate from the time of Kimon, ca. 170 AD - ca. 180 AD, Eleusis
The Greater Propylaea, a monumental gate probably built by Marcus Aurelius on the same site as an earlier gate from the time of Kimon. It formed the main entrance to the sanctuary.
The Greater Propylaea was a close copy of the Propylaia of the Acropolis in Athens consisting of two porches, each with a facade of six Doric columns.
The architectural elements that formed the Greater Propylaea, a monumental gate probably built by Marcus Aurelius.
The architectural elements (triglyphs and metopes) that formed the Greater Propylaea, a monumental gate probably built by Marcus Aurelius.
This cuirassed bust of an emperor was installed at the centre of the pediment of the Greater Propylaea. Although the face is badly damaged, it is thought to be a portrait of the emperor Marcus Aurelius who built the Greater Propylaea.
This cuirassed bust of an emperor was installed at the centre of the pediment of the Greater Propylaea.
Although the face is badly damaged, it is thought to be a portrait of the emperor Marcus Aurelius who built the Greater Propylaea.
The Lesser Propylaea, a small gateway to the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore built ca. 60 BC - ca. 10 BC, Eleusis
The Lesser Propylaea, a small gateway to the Sanctuary built by Appius Claudius Pulcher in 54 BC.
The entablature of the Lesser Propylaea had an Ionic architrave, on which is cut the Latin dedicatory inscription, and a frieze of triglyphs and metopes embellished with cists, bukrania, and stylized double poppies.
The entablature of the Lesser Propylaea had an Ionic architrave on which was cut the Latin dedicatory inscription and a frieze of triglyphs and metopes embellished with wheat-sheaves, bucrania, and stylized double poppies.
The upper part of one of the caryatids that flanked the Lesser Propylaea of Eleusis, made in Attica in about 50 BC (Eleusis Museum).
The upper part of one of the caryatids that flanked the Lesser Propylaea. On its head it carries the kiste, the sacred chest decorated in relief with the symbols of the Eleunisian cult: ears of wheat, poppies, rosettes (Eleusis Museum).
he Plutonion (caverns recalling the entrance to the underworld).
The Sanctuary of Pluto (Hades), god of the Underworld, who abducted Persephone. It is situated to the west of the Lesser Propylaea. The cavern recalls the entrance to the underworld.
The temple of Pluto is Archaic in date but was remodeled on many occasions from the fourth century BC down to Roman times.
The Temple of Pluto is Archaic in date but was remodeled on many occasions from the 4th century BC down to Roman times. It was a small temple with cella and pronaos opening east and a peribolos wall.
Flight of steps cut into the east side of the rock along the Processional Way.
Flight of steps cut into the east side of the rock along the Processional Way.
Overall view of the Telesterion, the
Overall view of the Telesterion, the “place for initiation”. It was the central building of the sanctuary where pilgrims were initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The Telesterion. It was a large hypostyle hall with seats on all four sides where the faithful sat and watched the rituals. The Hierophantes produced sacred objects and receded texts to covey a positive view of life after death.
Serving as the initiation Hall and Temple for the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Telesterion was a large hypostyle hall with seats on all four sides where the faithful sat and watched the rituals.
The earliest building traces on the site are of a Mycenaean megaron opening east. This was replaced by a Geometric building, and by Solon's time (ca. 600 B.C.) a rectangular hall, probably columned, running southwest-northeast had been built to accommodate a larger number of participants.
The earliest building traces on the site of the Telesterion are of a Mycenaean megaron opening east. This was replaced by a Geometric building, and by Solon’s time (ca. 600 BC) a rectangular hall, probably columned, running southwest-northeast had been built to accommodate a larger number of participants.
The Stoa of Philo built by the Eleusinian architect Philo in the mid-4th century BC in the Doric order in order to extend the Telesterion by the addition of a semi-open space.
The Stoa of Philo built by the Eleusinian architect Philo in the mid-4th century BC in the Doric order in order to extend the Telesterion by the addition of a semi-open space.
The fortification wall and circular corner-tower dating to the 4th century BC.
The fortification wall and circular corner-tower dating to the 4th century BC.
Kallichoron Well, according to the myth it was here that Demeter rested as she searched for her daughter Persephone.
Kallichoron Well, according to the myth it was here that Demeter rested as she searched for her daughter Kore. Here dances to Demeter and Kore were once performed, hence the name meaning Well of the Fair Dances.
Eleusis Museum
Eleusis Museum
Statue of the deified Antinous represented as Asklepios, found in the outer court of the sanctuary which it apparently adorned, 2nd century AD (Archaeological Museum of Eleusis).
Statue of Antinous represented as Asklepios, found in the outer court of the sanctuary which it apparently adorned. Antinous accompanied Hadrian during his attendance at the annual Eleusinian Mysteries. (Archaeological Museum of Eleusis).

Links:

Sources:

  • Kalliope Preka-Alexandri, Eleusis (Ministry of Culture Archaeological Receipts Fund, 2015)
  • Christopher Mee & Antony Spawforth, Greece: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford University Press, 2001)

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