Eleusinian Mysteries, most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece. According to the myth told in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the earth goddess Demeter went to Eleusis in search of her daughter Kore (Persephone), who had been abducted by Hades (Pluto), god of the underworld. Befriended by the royal family of Eleusis, she agreed to rear the queen’s son. She was, however, prevented by the queen’s unknowing interference from making the boy immortal and eternally young. After this occasion, she revealed her identity to the royal family and commanded that a temple be built for her into which she retired.
According to the Hymn to Demeter, the Mysteries at Eleusis originated in the two-fold story of Demeter’s life—her separation from and reunion with her daughter and her failure to make the queen’s son immortal. After Eleusis was incorporated, the city of Athens took responsibility for the festival, but the festival never lost its local associations.
The Mysteries began with the march of the mystai (initiates) in solemn procession from Athens to Eleusis. The rites that they then performed in the Telesterion, or Hall of Initiation, were and remain a secret. Something was recited, something was revealed, and acts were performed, but there is no sure evidence of what the rites actually were, though some garbled information was given by later, Christian writers who tried to condemn the Mysteries as pagan abominations.
It is clear, however, that neophytes were initiated in stages and that the annual process began with purification rites at what were called the Lesser Mysteries held at Agrai (Agrae) on the stream of Ilissos, outside of Athens, in the month of Anthesterion (February–March). The Greater Mysteries at Eleusis was celebrated annually in the month of Boedromion (September–October). It included a ritual bath in the sea, three days of fasting, and completion of the still-mysterious central rite. These acts completed the initiation, and the initiate was promised benefits of some kind in the afterlife.
After you are greeted by your English-speaking driver at your hotel, you will make your way to the Eleusis.
The archaeological site of Eleusis includes the Acropolis hill, where the settlements of ancient Eleusis from prehistory to late antiquity developed and especially the famous Sanctuary of Demeter where the Eleusinian Mysteries were performed, on the eastern slope of the hill. The Acropolis and the temple was surrounded by high walls reinforced with towers.
The visitor, on its way to the site, initially crosses the Roman courtyard where is the temple of Artemis Propylaea, the remains of a fountain and two triumphal arches. Then enters to the precincts of the sanctuary of Greater Propylaea, next to which is preserved the Kallichoro Frear. Then passes from the Lesser Propylaea, having on the right the cave Ploutoneio and reaches the main temple of Demeter the Telesterion.
Inside the archaeological site in Southeast slope of the Acropolis, is the Archaeological Museum of Eleusis, a building of the late 19th century. In its six rooms and courtyard are exhibited finds from the excavations of the Sanctuary of Demeter and western cemetery of Eleusis.
The most famous exhibits are the Protoattic amphora with the representation of blindness Cyclops Polyphemus (7th century BC), the headless statue of Demeter (5th century BC.) Votive reliefs depicting the mission of Triptolemos (4th century BC.), and the colossal statue of Caryatid which was supporting the roof of the Lesser Propylaea (1st century BC.).
After visiting the archaeological site and the museum of Eleusis close to the site is a Post-Byzantine church dedicated to St. Zacharias. The walls of the church have been incorporated with ancient marble and signs. The temple is built on the foundation of old Christian basilica (5th-6th century AD), the remnants of which are visible around the temple.
After that we take the way back to Athens.
Alternative Tour Options:
There are so many other things to see in this area. Keep in mind that your driver is at your disposal, so if you would like to adjust the proposed itinerary at all, just let him know!
Comfortable clothing and sensible, flat-soled walking shoes are recommended. Sun glasses and sun screen are suggested.
- General Admission: 3€
- Opening hours:
- Winter: Tue to Sun: 08:30-15:00
- Summer: Tue to Sun: 08:00-19.30
- Monday: Closed
Did you Know?
The Eleusinian Mysteries were a series of rituals that culminated in mystical initiation; they were held in and near the Greek city of Eleusis, a day’s walk from Athens, from approximately 1500 BCE to 392 CE. Even though the Mysteries endured for almost two millennia and attracted initiates from across the Hellenistic world, we know surprisingly few details, because initiates took a sacred vow of secrecy. We do know that they focused on the worship of Demeter and Kore.