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ELEUSIS Attica, Greece.

A small hilly site about 22 km to the W of Athens, lying at the head of the Thriasian plain and on the coast of a lake-like sea bordered by Salamis. Because of its location, it has been inhabited from the Early Bronze Age to the present. Its periods of fame were due to the secret cult of Demeter, known as the Eleusinian Mysteries, celebrated once a year. The cult, introduced during the Mycenaean Age, became Panhellenic in the 6th c. B.C. and acquired universal status in Roman Imperial times. In the Classical period the township was identified with the Sanctuary of the Goddess. It was devastated first by the army of Xerxes in 480-479 B.C., then by the Kostovoks in 170 B.C., and finally by the hordes of Alaric in A.D. 395. The first two destructions were followed by rebuilding; the site never recovered from the last destruction and by the end of the 5th c. it was completely ruined by the Christians.

Excavations, continuous since 1882, have revealed the ruins of the famous Sanctuary of Demeter. For privacy its area was surrounded by fortifications in successive eras, in Geometric and archaic times, in the days of Peisistratos, Kimon, and Perikles, and in 380-370 B.C. Surviving in good length, they prove that an ever increasing popularity of the cult was followed by enlargements of the sanctuary area.

At its N edge is the outer court, 65 x 40 m, paved in Roman times. Along the E side of the court we find the remains of a fountain-house, 11.30 m in length, dating from the Roman period. At its two corners, the SE and the SW, triumphal arches identical to that of Hadrian in Athens were erected after A.D. 129. The SW arch, now being restored, is better preserved. Above its single archway we read the inscription, “All the Greeks to the Goddesses and the Emperor.” That arch opened to a road running along the peribolos wall of Kimon, strengthened in Roman times. On its N side survive remnants of buildings in which the initiates once could find temporary accommodations.

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. Beyond its NE corner is a well-preserved, unique ground altar of baked brick set in a rectangular court, dating from Roman times. To the S and E the outer court was blocked by the Greater Propylaia and by a fortification wall of Peisistratean times, which was continued to the SE to enclose the township of Eleusis.

The Greater Propylaia face NE, toward Athens, and form the main entranceway to the sanctuary. They stand on a stepped platform rising 1.70 m above the floor of the court. Of Pentelic marble, they are an exact duplicate of the central section of the Periklean Propylaia of the Acropolis, with an inner and an outer portico fronted by Doric columns. The outer portico, 15.24 m in depth, uses six Ionic columns in two rows in its depth. The inner portico, facing the sanctuary, is only 7.36 m in depth. The cross-wall between the porticos was pierced by five doorways. The floor has survived, as have fragments of the entablature, and even some blocks of its pediment decorated with a bust of its builder, Marcus Aurelius, in a shield. The lowermost step on the E side was interrupted to allow access to one of the sacred landmarks of Eleusis, a well rebuilt by Peisistratos and since then known as the “Kallichoron.”

To the S of the Greater stand the Lesser Propylaia. They were built of Pentelic marble after 50 B.C. by the nephews of Appius Claudius Pulcher in fulfillment of his vows over the Peisistratean Gate, the N Pylon, whose flanking tower can be seen under its platform of Roman concrete. At the depth of a forecourt (9.80 x 10.35 m) paved with large slabs, is the doorway, 2.95 m wide. It was sheltered by a prothyron on the outside and a vestibule on the inside. The prothyron, 4.40 m in depth, has two Corinthian columns whose bases and elaborate capitals with winged animals among the corner tendrils have survived. The entablature has 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 inner vestibule, facing the sanctuary, was fronted by two Caryatids set on high podia. One of these is in the local museum, the other in the Fitzwilliam.

To the SW of the Lesser Propylaia, separated by a wall built by Valerian, are foundations of structures which served the functionaries of the sanctuary.

From the Lesser Propylaia begins the ascending Sacred Way, paved in Roman times, which terminated to the S at the Temple of Demeter known as the Telesterion, since in it was completed the Telete, the initiation service. Immediately to the right of the Sacred Way is a cave within which survive the foundations of a 4th c. B.C. temple (2.98 x 3.77 m) dedicated to Pluto. Built of poros stone in the form of a templum in antis, it stands in a triangular court retained by a wall of poros stone. Adjacent to the cave on the S is a stepped platform cut out of the rock, 10.50 x 6.25 m, which perhaps served as a stand from which the initiates followed an act of the sacred pageant, for somewhere in front of it was the Mirthless Stone, another sacred landmark. Above its S side stood a small treasury, some 6 x 2.90 m, by the side of which, still to be seen, is a boulder used as a donation box for small gifts.

Next to the platform on the S is a deep cutting in the rock in which can be seen the foundations of a building, 14.10 x 11.20 m, whose front was built over an artificially constructed terrace. It was in the form of a templum in antis with a wide stairway in its front elevation. The building was at first identified as the pre-Persian Temple of Demeter, but it is proved to have been constructed in Roman times and perhaps was dedicated to Sabina, the New Demeter. Between this temple and the Telesterion exists a narrow stairway cut in the rock, an ascent to another Roman temple built on the hill.

No building was constructed along the E, or left-hand side of the Sacred Way. Beyond its edge and limited by the Kimonian wall can be seen remains of the Peisistratean peribolos composed of a stone sole surmounted by a mudbrick wall, as well as foundations of a variety of buildings. Most important of these is a triangular structure of Periklean times with three rows of square pillars: the famous Siroi, or magazines, where the tithes to the goddess were stored. Again on the left-hand side, as we approach the Telesterion, we can see the retaining walls built in the Geometric, archaic, and Periklean periods and in the 4th c. B.C. to support the terrace on which were constructed the successive Telesteria of Demeter.

On that terrace, above the Mycenaean remains, a fragment of an apsidal wall, built ca. 750 B.C., seems to belong to the earliest Telesterion of the historic period. To that temple and terrace access was obtained through a stairway on the S side near which remains of sacrificial pyres attest to the sacred character of the terrace and its building. Mound 600 B.C. a larger Telesterion, known as the Solonian, was built over the same area of the slope, but on an enlarged terrace. Its SW corner survives, proving that at least the lower part of the temple was built of bluish-gray Eleusinian stone in the Lesbian polygonal style. The temple had an oblong plan, 24 x 14 m, with a double sloping roof ending in triangular pediments. In front of it spread a triangular court where the altars of the goddesses stood. Below the terrace to the NE a stepped platform faces a lower court bordered by an altar and a well. In the archaic period it served the initiates to follow the sacred dances held in front of the well in honor of the goddess.

In the days of Peisistratos and his sons, 550-510 B.C., the Solonian Telesterion was replaced by a larger one, built of well-cut poros stone over the same area of the slope. Its foundations of hard limestone were lowered to rock level. The temple possesses an almost square naos or cella, 25.30 x 27.10 m, fronted on the E side by a prostoon with perhaps 10 Doric columns in its facade. The roof of the naos was supported by 22 Ionic columns. In the SW section of the naos was the anaktoron, a separate shrine, where the hiera were kept. On three lengths of its walls, interrupted only by the shrine, rose tiers of nine steps from which the initiates could follow the rites. Three doors opened from the naos to the prostoon. The entablature was of poros stone, but its raking cornice and the simas, with ornamental rams' heads at the corners, were of Parian marble.

The Peisistratean Telesterion was devastated by the Persians in 480-479 B.C. Using its foundations, Kimon began the building of a new Telesterion whose scanty remains prove that it was never completed. Literary (Vitruvius, Strabo, Plutarch) and epigraphical evidence indicates that two different buildings were attempted in the Periklean Age. One was designed by Iktinos and its construction was begun but soon abandoned. The few surviving remains, especially foundations of columns, indicate that it was composed of an almost square naos whose roof, supported by 20 columns, had an opaion or lantern in the center. Its W side was cut deeply into the rock of the hillside. The second building was designed and executed by Koroibos, Metagenes, and Xenokles. It was burned in 170 B.C. and was rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. The only change made in the original plan was to increase the length of the naos by 2.15 m. What we can see today belongs to the rebuilt temple.

The Telesterion designed by Koroibos was composed of a square naos, ca. 51 m in length (increased to ca. 53 m in Roman times) and ca. 51 m in width. A good part of its W section was cut out of the living rock. The roof was supported by 42 columns arranged in seven rows of 6 columns in each row. The floor columns supported a second tier of lighter columns and in the middle of the roof there was an opaion. Under the opaion in the naos was the anaktoron, scanty traces of which have been recently recognized; at its NE comer stood a niche containing the throne of the Hierophant. Tiers of eight steps for the initiates were arranged along the walls on all four sides of the naos, interrupted by two doorways on each of three sides, the N, E, and S. In the 4th c. B.C. a portico was built in front of its E side, known as the Philonian Stoa from the name of its architect. Today we have the foundations of the stoa, the stereobate or its floor, some drums of its columns, and parts of its superstructure, all built of Pentelic marble, while the foundations were of poros stone. The stoa measures 54.50 x 11.35 m. The exterior aspect of the naos with its unbroken wall of gray-blue stone unrelieved by columns, solemn and austere, must have been awe-inspiring, well suited to its mystic function.

Behind the Telesterion, some 7.35 m above its floor, a terrace, 11.45 m in width, is cut in the rock. This terrace, as well as the narrow stairway to the N and the broad stepped platform cut in the rock to the S, are of Roman date. The terrace led to a stepped approach of a Roman temple built on the NE extremity of the hill. The temple had a cella, 18 x 12 m, roofed by a vault and a portico, ca. 4.5 m in depth, with four columns in antis. Perhaps it was dedicated to Faustina the elder, who also had the title of New Demeter. The terrace and the temple extended to the wall—known as the diateichisma, few remains of which survive—that separated the sanctuary area from the summit of the hill.

The broad stepped platform to the S of the Telesterion faced the S court, where perhaps the rites of the balletys, the pelting with stones, was performed and was witnessed by people standing on the platform. The S court to the E is bound by fortification walls built by Perikles and extended in 370-360 B.C. to the SE and S. The 4th c. wall, averaging 2.55 m in thickness, is the best-known example of Greek fortification walls. Along its inner side was built a long structure divided by cross-walls into six compartments. Its use is problematical; perhaps it served important members of the personnel, or was used for storing the tithes. Along the S section of the 4th c. B.C. wall, where we find the well-preserved Gate to the Sea, exist the foundations of a 3d c. building identified as the bouleuterion, where the City Council, and occasionally the 500 of Athens, met. Farther W from the Gate to the Sea scanty remnants of a long stoa survive, dating perhaps from the 4th century B.C.

The sanctuary area, cleared to the rock, has yielded remains that enable us to piece together the history and the architectural activity of the site. Of the village itself very little survives. Most important are the remains of the Peisistratean fortification wall that surrounded the N section of the village with its gate toward Athens, the Asty Gate. On the S slope of the hill a well-known relic in the form of a vaulted round chamber with a passage attached to its E side, was taken to be a tholos tomb of Mycenaean times. It has been proved to be a cistern of the 4th c. B.C. belonging to the village.


“Eleusinische Beitraege,” AthMitt 24 (1899); P. Foucart, Les Mysteères d'Éleusis (1914); F. Noack, Eleusis, die baugeschichtliche Entwicklung des Heiligtumes (1927); K. Kourouniotes & J. N. Travlos, Τελεστήριον καὶ ναὸς τῆς Δήμητρος, Deltion 15 (1933-1935); K. Kourouniotes, Ὁδηγὸς τῶν ἀνασκαφῶν καὶ τοῦ Μουσείου* (1934); “Das eleusinische Heiligtum von den Anfaengen bis zu vorperikleischen Zeit,” ArchRW 32 (1935); K. Kourouniotes & J. N. Travlos, Συμβολὴ εῖς τὴν οἰκοδομικὴν ἱστοπίαν τοῦ Ἐλευσιν ιακοῦ Τελεστηρίου, Deltion 16 (1935); K. Kourouniotes, Eleusiniaka I (1937); G. E. Mylonas, The Hymn to Demeter and Her Sanctuary at Eleusis (1942); J. N. Travlos, “The Topography of Eleusis,” Hesperia 18 (1949); Τό ἀνάκτορον τῆς Ἐλευσῖνος, Ephemeris (1951); G. E. Mylonas, Ἑλευσὶς καὶ Διόνυσος, Ephemeris (1960); Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries (1961); Τὸ δυτικὸν νεκροταφεῖον τῆς Ἐλευσῖνος (1975).


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