The Sanctuary of Demeter and Daughter (Kore)

The Sanctuary of Eleusis was for centuries one of the most important religious centers of antiquity. Within its area developed the cult of goddess Demeter and her Daughter, Persephone, which is associated with the cultivation of land, vegetation, fertility, as well as with the regeneration and eternity of life.


The Myth

The detailed narration of the myth was made for the first time in a lengthy epic poem with some 500 verses, known as Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Although neither the creator of the hymn is known to us, nor the time of its composition, for most scholars it is considered as the official recounting of the eleusinian traditions recorded around the end of the 7th century BC, perhaps around 600 BC.

ΤThe content of the myth is revealed to us from the very first verse: "Demeter the beautiful and respected goddess I begin to praise, she and her daughter, Persephone, the girl with the bent legs who was grabbed by Aidoneus.

Aidoneus, who identifies with Pluto, the god of the Underworld ....... read more
Aidoneus, who identifies with Pluto, the god of the Underworld and brother of Zeus, watching the beautiful Persephone play undisturbed in a meadow, in the company of the daughters of the Ocean, impressed by her beauty and innocence, while she bends down to cut a flower, rips the earth on his golden chariot with the immortal horses , he grabs her, while she resists with wails and sorrows, and leads her to his kingdom.

Her mother, Demeter, who heard her voices, has been wandering the earth for nine days looking for her. She was so sad that "she didn't want to eat the ambrosia, she didn't want to drink the sweet drink, the nectar, and she didn't even take a bath." On the tenth day, as soon as he learned the truth from Helios, angry with Zeus, he abandons Olympus and roams the cities and fields of people.

Disguised as an old woman, she arrived in the city of Eleusis. In the well she sat down to rest, she meets the daughters of the king of the city, Keleus, who take her to the palace and take care of her. To make her cheer up, they offer her red wine, which she refuses to drink and begs them to make her a drink of barley flour mixed with water and thin flask, the "cykeon", with which she stops her fast. Then, in order to return the hospitality, she became the nurse of the royal infant, Demofon, and decides to make the infant immortal by passing it over the fire to burn his mortal elements. Unfortunately, she provoked the strong reaction of his mother, Metaneira, who didn’t know her purpose, and thus, she will be forced to reveal her divine identity in the following words: "I, then, am much honored Demeter, the one who offers food and joy to the immortals and mortals." As goddess Demeter orders the king and the Eleusinians to build her a temple and an altar "outside your city and its high walls, on the hill that rises above the Kallichoron well".

In this temple, which Keleus will immediately construct, she will be closed, determined not to let the earth germinate until she sees her beloved daughter again. Zeus, the king of gods and people, is ordering Pluto to let Persephone ascend to the Upper World. But he offers her to eat pomegranate, a symbol of marriage.

Thus, the daughter of Demeter, will live the eight months of the year with her mother on earth and the rest with her husband in the kingdom of Hades.

After that, before leaving for Olympus, happy now, the goddess Demeter “straightway made fruit to spring from the rich land, so that the whole wide earth was filled with leaves and flowers. It also teaches the Eleusinians to worship her with ceremonies, that are mysterious and in which participants will become happy and complete, with one condition, never to reveal the content of them.

This cult became known as the Mysteries of the goddess Demeter and as the rituals took place in Eleusis, they were called Eleusinian Mysteries. A local cult, therefore, initially limited to members of a family or genus, gradually spread beyond these narrow boundaries. The annexation of the city of Eleusis to the powerful state of Athens, during historical times, led to the evolution of worship into a nationwide religious institution with unifying power and strong influence, which in Roman times acquired universal prestige.

Eleusinian Mysteries

According the tradition, it was a nine-day festival which taking place in the shrine of Demeter and Persephone each September.

The worship ceremonies took place in two periods

ΤIn antiquity, Eleusina was mainly known for the Great Mysteries, as the Eleusinian Mysteries were also called, the most famous secret religious rite of the ancient Greece. According the tradition, it was a nine-day festival which taking place in the shrine of Demeter and Persephone each September. The celebration takes a PanHellenic character while many more pilgrims visit Eleusina from all over Greece. Its core was the myth of Persephone’s abduction and the initiates, probably through a symbolic reenactment of the “death” and “rebirth” of Persephone and other sequence of steps, claimed a better life after death. What, exactly this mystic ritual was, no one knows. Because of its secret character, the participants are forced not to reveal the form of this holy celebration. However, we do know that after all the pilgrims were relieved from the fear of death.

The worship ceremonies took place in two periods. In the spring, in the month of March, the ancient month of Anthesteria, the preliminary initiation took place in Athens, which included cleaning on the Ilissos River. It is about the Lesser Mysteries, as they were called, the «εν Άγραις Μυστήρια». In September, the Greater Mysteries took place that lasted nine days, in memory of the wandering of the goddess Demeter in search of her daughter, Persephone.

They followed a specific ritual that briefly included the following:
On the eve, the Holy Objects were transported from Eleusis to Athens. These were kept in a small sanctuary of Demeter on the northern slope of the Acropolis. The next day there was the opening of the Mysteries, which was called «Gathering» or the «Assembly» (i.e. a gathering of the candidates). All who had passed through the Lesser Mysteries assembled to assist in the celebration of the Greater Mysteries. On this day the Archon Basileus presided over all the cults of the city, and assembled the people at a place known as the Poikili Stoa. After the Archon Basileus, with four assistants, had offered up sacrifices and prayers for the welfare of Greece, the following proclamation was made by him: «Come, whoever is clean of all pollution and whose soul has not consciousness of sin. Come, whosoever hath lived a life of righteousness and justice. Come all ye who are pure of heart and of hand, and whose speech can be understood. Whosoever hath not clean hands, a pure soul, and an intelligible voice must not assist at the Mysteries.»

The second day was known as «Άλαδε Μύσται», from the command which greeted all the initiates to go and purify themselves by washing in the sea of Phaleron.

Then we had the procession of the initiates on their return from Athens to Eleusis, through the Sacred Road, covering a distance of about 22 km. Along this way they made stops in sanctuaries that met, such as the sanctuary of Aphrodite Aphaia, in today's Haidari, as well as in the Rheitoi, the two lakes, one large and one small, dedicated to Demeter and Persephone respectively. The procession approached Eleusis as it was night and the prospective initiates, each holding a torch lit, entered the Sanctuary. Scholars assume that the night passed with dances around the «Kallichoron well».

The process of initiation took place in the area of the temple of Demeter, in the so-called Telesterion, which included the "events" (possibly a representation of the passions of the goddess), the "shown" (the sacred objects revealed by the Hierophantis) and the "so-called" (some kind of indoctrination or teaching).

The next night was dedicated to «Supervision», the highest level of initiate. The ceremonies were concluded with the dawn of the next day, which was dedicated to the worship of the deities of life and death.


The History of the Cult and the Sanctuary

The literary sources, combined with the information given to us by the archaeological remains from the site of the Sanctuary, indicate the beginning of worship in later geometric times.

ΤIn the 8th century B.C. Greece was devastated by a major famine. The oracle of Delphi then orders the Athenians to offer sacrifices to the goddess Demeter, in the name of all Greeks. This was the only way to placate the goddess to make the earth fertile and fruitful again.

The oracle, according to the scholars G. Mylonas and I. Traulos, was given during the 5th Olympiad (760 BC).

Then they consider that the worship of Demeter takes place nationwide .... read more
But perhaps a cult that had been abandoned in late helladic III reappears in Eleusis.

The first confirmed testimony of a cult is a sacrificial fire, which was detected at the area of Telesterion. Inside this fire, in addition to ashes, came to light a large number of bird-like figurines and a number of vessels, the earliest of which date back to the late geometric period. The majority of figurines represent female figures, some sitting and other standing. Perhaps the first sacrifices in this area are related to the oracle mentioned by ancient sources. The rites with offerings of figurines will be preserved in the area of the Telesterion, until the end of the 7th century B.C.

In the years of Solon, the first Telesterion was built. Because of the great popularity of the worship, in the second half of the 6th century BC, the years of Peisistratos, a new and larger Telesterion was constucted, as well as an impressive fortification, that ensured the protection of the Sanctuary and mantained the secrecy of worship ceremonies.

The Peisistratean Fortification, as it is known, was constructed following in some parts the line of the earlier wall, which was limited to the eastern area of the Sanctuary, while it was extended to both the northwest and the southwest part. Its importance in building technology is great, as it is one of the few surviving examples of fortifications made of raw bricks. Its lower part, approximately 1.2 m high, was constructed during the polygonal masonry system with large stones of eleusinian grey limestone . Its structure was built with square bricks of mud and straw, dried in the sun (raw bricks). At its highest there was the corridor where the guards patrolled, reinforced with tall towers compact to the base, constructed with the same building system.

After the end of the Persian Wars, Pericles and then Lykourgus undertook to carry out a series of construction projects in order to emphasize the glory and splendor of the most important religious center of their time. The Telesterion acquires a very elaborate design and the fortification of the Sanctuary is expanded to surround the new buildings.

The Lykourgean Fortification that was built in the 4th century B.C. to extend the sanctuary to the south, it was built with the so-called ashlar masonry, as well as the former Periclean Fortification. The two-tone color of the stones and the shading created by the different ways of processing, demonstrate the effort of ancient creators to combine the functionality of fortifications with aesthetics. It is particularly characteristic that all the great leaders of the state of Athens supported its relationship with the Eleusinian Sanctuary for financial and political reasons.

The Roman times is the period of the establishment of the Sanctuary as a religious and political center with universal importance. The Roman emperors, who were initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, showed in practice their favor to the Sanctuary. In the years of Hadrian, Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius, the most impressive and monumental buildings were built, such as the Greater Propylaea, the Triumphal arches, the temple of Artemis Propylaea, the Fountain e.t.c.

After the predominance of Christianity and the decree of the emperor Theodosius I, in 392 A.D., the worship of Demeter stopped and the Sanctuary was permanently closed.

The Early Travellers and the Story of the «Caryatid of Eleusis»

Life in Eleusis does not seem to have stopped after the decline of the ancient sanctuary. We know that during the byzantine times there was habitation in the area, then a Frankish tower that existed until 1953 in the archeological site shows us that the Franks also passed through Eleusis, while we also know about the passage of the Venetians, who, in fact, saw a colossal statue, a Caryatid, stood alone in the Eleusinian landscape and they wanted to take it, but in the end they did not succeed. Later, this statue is seen in the drawings of the British George Wheler, who in 1676 visited the abandoned area of the Sanctuary.

A Caryatid is a sculpted female figure that acts as an architectural column. This is the upper part of one of a pair that flanked the gateway to the inner courtyard of the sanctuary of Demeter, Greek goddess of fertility. It was part of a building programme begun around 50 B.C., by which time Greece was a Roman province. This Roman caryatid resembles the better-known Greek caryatids of the Erechtheion, a temple of the 5th century BC on the Athenian Acropolis. 

The deliberate reference to classical Athens, a city admired by the Romans, emphasises the connection between Athens and the sanctuary at Eleusis.  

The Eleusinian Mysteries, one of the most important of all Greek religious festivals, began with the worshippers walking the twelve miles from Athens to Eleusis. The festival was still important in the Roman period, and some Roman emperors were initiated into the cult. Since participants were sworn to secrecy, details of the ceremonies remain a mystery to this day, but they were connected with rituals of rebirth and the afterlife.

The Caryatid was removed from Eleusis in 1801 by E.D. Clarke. The local people used to heap manure around it, believing it protected the fertility of their fields. Clarke identified it as Demeter, but it is more likely to represent a priestess. The figure is very worn, having stood for centuries above ground, but the gorgon head at her breast and the sacred container (cista) on her head are still visible.

E.D. Clarke finally made it and stole it. On the way back to England, the ship, on which the statue was loaded, sank just off the coast. The statue was removed and placed in 1803 in the most prominent part of the Public Library at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, while its "sister" (second Caryatid) is still on display at the Archaeological Museum of Eleusis.


The Ηistory of the Excavations

The first research on the Eleusinian Sanctuary was carried out during Ottoman rule by the Society of Dilettanti, which sent a mission to the Eastern Mediterranean led by Sir William Gell and the architects John Peter Grandy and Francis Redford. The members of this expedition who arrived in Eleusis in 1812 managed to locate the place of the Telesterion and draw its floor plan, which, however, turned out to be wrong, as the houses of the village that were built on it, prevented them from having the exact plan.

They also excavated the temple of Artemis Propylaea ... read more
They also excavated the temple of Artemis Propylaea and Father Poseidon, as well as the Greater Propylaea. They, first of all, identified the similarity of the Greater Propylaea of Eleusis with the Propylaea of Athens. Finally, they designed many of the architectural members of the Lesser Propylaea. All their research work was published in 1817 in a very important book entitled The Unedited Antiquities of Attica.

The interest for the Sanctuary of Eleusis was revived in 1860 and the French archaeologist Fr. Lenormant, with the permission of the Greek government, conducts small-scale and long-term archaeological excavations in the area of the Lesser Propylaea.

The systematic and complete excavations began in 1882 by the «Greek Archaeological Society of Athens», under the direction of the great archaeologist Dimitrios Filios. The reports of his excavation from 1882 to 1894 gave the first documented reports for the buildings of the Sanctuary. He collaborated with Wilhelm Dörpfeld, to whose expert skill we owe the architectural plans that accompany the annual reports of D. Filios.

The excavations continued between 1895 and 1907 by Professor Andreas Skias, who particularly investigated the court of the Sanctuary, its southern section, the Cemetery of geometric times and the prehistoric remains to the south of the precinct.

In 1917 Konstantinos Kourouniotis undertook the direction. Until 1930, small excavations were carried out, due to lack of money. In the same year, the Rockefeller Foundation funded the research and K. Kourouniotis carried out extensive excavations that brought to light the remains of the Telesterion and its courtyards and revealed the history of the Sanctuary from 1500 B.C. until the 5th century A.D.

The new data that emerged during this second excavation period not only confirmed the unknown prehistoric phase of the Sanctuary, but, also, enabled the excavators to correct and supplement the previous conclusions about the topography of the Sanctuary during historical times. The collaborators of K. Kourouniotis were the architect Ioannis Travlos, the ephor of Antiquities Ioannis Threpsiadis and, for a short time, the professor of archeology at the University of Thessaloniki Ioannis Bakalakis.

From 1945, the «Greek Archaeological Society of Athens» entrusted the excavations to professors Anastasios Orlandos and Georgios Mylonas, as well as to Ioannis Travlos.

G. Mylonas continued to study the Eleusinian Sanctuary since his death in 1988. He was the archaeologist who revealed the so-called "Western Cemetery" of Eleusis, with the large number of tombs dating to prehistoric times, including a cluster of tombs, which was identified by the excavator with the tomb of the "Seven on Thebes".

During the 1990s, the excavations inside the archeological site were continued by Michalis Kosmopoulos. Nowday, the Ephorate of the Antiquities of Western Attica is responsible for the archeological site and the museum.

The History of the Archeological Museum

The museum’s construction was already a matter of necessity since the first excavations placed in the site. According to old written sources and information from the locals, there were many rough places for gathering and storage the amount of the archaeological finds. For example, Aghios Zaharias, one of the oldest churches of Eleusina, and other old houses were the first places used as «ancient storages».

The first building, constructed to house the findings of the Sanctuary ... read more
The first building, constructed to house the findings of the Sanctuary, designed by the architect Ioannis Moussis, and founded in 1889 at the southern end of the ancient hill. The archaeological museum of Eleusis, one of the oldest museums in Greece, is a stone-built, ground floor building, consisting of five rooms. In the early 1930s a sixth room was added to its western part and the first rearrangement of the exhibition took place.

During the years of German occupation, measures are taken to protect the exhibits, the most important of them are transferred to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The bulky ones were remained in the rooms, protected with soil, while the smaller are packed and hidden inside an ancient tank which is located in the area of the museum. At the end of the war, the damage of the building was restored and the objects were re-exposed. Various changes and additions followed inside. The most important of them was the presentation of the pottery that came from the excavations in the "Western Cemetery", as well as the large plaster models of the Sanctuary, made by the architect Ioannis Travlos.

The last operation took place after the catastrophic earthquake of 1999. The building was partially renovated, an air conditioning system was installed as well as new lighting.

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