Ephorate of Antiquities of West Attica

Archaeological Site of Elefsina

Ancient Sanctuary Of Demeter And Daughter (Kore)

The Sanctuary of Elefsina (aka 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 of nature and life.

Today, the archaeological site extends along the foot of the hill of the ancient acropolis, on which stands the small church of «Panagia Mesosporitissa».

Let’s Explore the Site

Begin your tour from the spacious Roman Court (65m long, 40m wide and paved with large marble rectangular slabs). Iera Odos the sacred way or road that connected Eleusis with Athens ended up in the north end of the court, which was followed by the procession of the initiates during the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The Processional Road is the continuation of the Sacred Way (Iera Odos) within the Sanctuary and led from the Lesser Propylaea to the main temple of Demeter, the Telesterion, curving along the rocky slope. In Roman times this way was paved with marble slabs, of which only a few are preserved today. On either side of the Processional Road there were pedestals on which stood statues and other dedications. Some of them can still be seen at the site.

The Telesterion is the most important building of the Sanctuary, as within it the ritual enactments of the Eleusinian Mysteries took place. The architectural remains that, today, are visible, relate mainly to the Telesterion of the classical times (5th cent. BC) which was planned by the architect of the Parthenon, Ictinos.

The Greater Propylaea was the imposing gateway to the Sanctuary in Roman imperial times. It was built over the old North Gate, the unadorned fort entrance of Cimon’s time (first half of 5th century BC). The building was oriented toward Athens and was an almost exact copy of the central part of the Propylaea on the Acropolis of Athens.
Approximately in the middle of the Roman Court stands the raised platform of the temple of Artemis Propylaea and Father Poseidon. The temple was built with pentelic marble and had a wooden roof and ceramic roof tiling dating back to the 2nd century AD.

Porticoes (elongated roofed buildings with a colonnade along their long side, the façade) were built in public places of gathering, such as squares, markets, sanctuaries, theatres. In fact sanctuaries were worshippers' safe haven. An L-shaped portico, at the entrance of the Sanctuary, bordered the west and north side of the Roman Court reaching the Sacred Way.

The east side of the Roman court was defined by an impressive triumphal arch through which a road led to an area outside the walls of the Sanctuary with baths, hotels and other public edifices that served the worshippers during their visit.

You can also see the underground cistern, built on the east side of the Greater Propylaea, so as to ensure sufficiency of water in the main sanctuary as well as the “siroi” chambers where the year’s agricultural produce was preserved.

The west side of the Roman Court was also defined by an impressive triumphal arch, identical and corresponding to the east one, through which passed the road that led to the city gates, in the west part of the wall, and then outside the sanctuary, to the city of Eleusis.

In the southeast side of the acropolis of the shrine you can visit the Archaeological Museum, built in 1889 by the architect J. Moussis, which houses important finds from the excavations in the Sanctuary and the cemeteries of the ancient city of Eleusis.

Some interesting insights

In 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.

Eleusis was mainly known for the Great Mysteries, aka the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most famous secret religious rite of ancient Greece. According to tradition, it was a nine-day festival that took place in the shrine of Demeter and Persephone each September. It was a large scale celebration, where pilgrims around Greece, flocked to Eleusis. The myth surrounding this festival concerned Persephone’s abduction through a symbolic reenactment of the “death” and “rebirth” of Persephone claiming a better life after death.