a short visit

    A Visit to the Sanctuary of Eleusis*

    Passing through the entrance to the archaeological site and crossing the last part of the Sacred Way in a southerly direction, we find ourselves in the large court that lies in front of the outer northern entrance to the Sanctuary of Eleusis, the Great Propylaea.

    The Court 65 x 40 m., and dating to the time of the Roman Empire, is an irregular trapezoid in plan and paved with large rectangular marble slabs. It was here that the faithful gathered for the preparation and observance of the procession of the Mysteries and the other sacred ceremonies, and it was the object of especial attention by the Roman emperors, who adorned it with fine buildings. Three roads led into the Court: the Sacred Way, which began in the Athenian Agora and ended at the northeastern end, the road from the harbour of Eleusis, which led to the east arch, and the road from Megara, which came to the west arch.


    Northeast Stoa. The foundations of the Stoa can be seen opposite the entrance to the site; it bounded the Court on this side (the ten columns of the façade of the portico have been tentatively restored in the plan).
    Fountain. South of the Northeast Stoa is preserved the bottom of the cistern for the Fountain. A marble crepidoma is preserved in front of the basin with eight hollow depressions into which the water must have flowed from eight spouts. A little below this crepidoma was a second one, also of marble, with a channel that carried the water from the cistern to a central conduit east of the wall of the Sanctuary. The building appears to have had a marble revetment. It belongs to the first half of the 2nd c. AD.

    Eastern Triumphal Arch. Beside the Fountain are the temporarily reerected pediment and a collection of various architectural members from the East Arch. The base is in its original position, beside  the Fountain, partially restored with contemporary architectural fragments. The arch, of Pentelic marble and in the Corinthian order, was 16 m. high. The lower part of the arch was 4.85 m. wide at the threshold. On each side of the arch bases decorated with crossed pinetorches — attributes of Demeter and Persephone — supported Corinthian columns. On the epistyle of the arch is incised the dedicatory inscription:

    TOIN ΘΕΟΙΝ ΚΑΙ ΤΩ AYTOKPATOPI ΟΙ ΠΑΝΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ (the panhellenes to the goddesses and the emperor).

    The part of the structure above the arch was divided into three sections by Corinthian columns. The pediment that is now near the base of the arch originally stood above the central section. The East Triumphal Arch, like its twin at the west end of the Sanctuary, was with a few minor differences a faithful copy of Hadrian's Arch in Athens.

    Their construction is attributed to Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius.
    West Triumphal Arch. The base of the Western Arch is in its original position at the west end of the Court, opposite the Eastern Arch, and nearby are fourteen of its architectural members.

    Northwest Stoa. The Court was closed off by another stoa in the northwest, of which the foundations have survived. The building had a portico at the front and behind it a row of adjacent rooms.

    Exedra. Directly in front of the entrance to the site the foundations are preserved of a semicircular building, which in most people's opinion must have been an exedra (stand) from which the Sanctuary officials watched the arrival of the procession of the Eleusinia or various sacrifices and other ceremonies in honour of the goddesses. Another opinion maintains that it was a base for statues.

    Temple of Artemis Propylaia and Poseidon Pater. In about the middle of the Court stands the crepidoma of the temple, which was tetrastyle amphiprostyle Doric and built of Pentelic marble, with a timber roof and terracotta tiles. The columns were monolithic. Its construction dates to the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

    Altars of Artemis and Poseidon. The rectangular marble foundation, 3.70 x 3.08 m., to the east of the temple has been identified as the Altar of Artemis, and the remains of foundations, 4 x3.35 m., north of the temple as the Altar of Poseidon.

    Eschara. Its remains are visible northwest of the Temple of Artemis. The altar, shaped like a well, was built of bricks and was 1.75 m. deep, 1.43 m. long and 1.06 m. wide. In the interior of the altar six flues are preserved. The ledge running around the four walls halfway up supported the iron grill on which the sacrifices were made before the procession set off for Athens. The altar, Roman in date and perhaps contemporary with the Court, is the last of a series of altars that had existed on this spot in earlier times for sacrifices to the goddesses. South of the cutting in which the Eschara stands can be seen part of an apsidal structure that belonged to an important 8th c. BC building.

    Kallichoron Well. This is south of the Court and by the northeast corner of the Greater Propylaea. It is built of blue-grey Eleusinian stone in the polygonal style. The mouth of the Well is formed of two concentric stone rings. The Kallichoron is 1.35 m. below the level of the paving of the Court, from which it is separated by a surrounding wall. In the opinion of the archaeologist Mylonas the Kallichoron was built at the time of Pisistratus to replace another one which, according to the description in the Homeric Hymn, had been in use until then below the northeast corner of the Portico of Philo. The first Kallichoron went out of use due to the construction of the Pisistratan Wall, which considerably restricted the space around it so that there was no longer room
    for the Eleusinian women to perform the dances that were a part of the ritual in honour of the goddess.

    Greater Propylaea. The remains of the Greater Propylaea are preserved in approximately the middle of the south side of the Court, facing
    Athens; they formed the main entrance to the Sanctuary in the Roman period and were probably built on the site of the older Cimonian Pylon. The Propylaea, a close copy of the central section of the Propylaea of the Acropolis at Athens, consisted of two porches, an exterior one on the north and an interior one on the south, each with a facade of six Doric columns. Five doorways, approached from the outer court by a flight of six steps, led to the south porch, which gave directly
    onto the Sanctuary without steps. Behind the Doric end columns of the porch were pilasters that formed the ends of the sidewalls of the Propylaea. Near the south porch was a crosswall dividing the building into two unequal parts. Behind the two central Doric columns of the north porch were six Ionic columns in two rows which supported the deep vestibule. The Doric columns of the north façade were crowned by an entablature with a horizontal architrave, a frieze of triglyphs and metopes and finally a pediment framed by regular Doric cornices, decorated on the tympanum with the relief bust of an emperor on a shield.
    The construction of the Propylaea has been variously attributed to Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, whose features, indeed, Deubner claimed to recognize in the bust on the north pediment.

    At the time of the invasions by the Goths and Herulians (267 AD) the facade of the Propylaea was closed by a strong wall to guard the Sanctuary, and only one door on the east side gave entry to it. West of the Propylaea and in front of a section of the Pisistratan Wall that closed the Sanctuary on this side, are displayed some of the architectural fragments from the Propylaea, including the north pediment with the bust of the emperor.

    Service Area of the Sanctuary. The service area of the Sanctuary extended on either side of the Greater Propylaea. It seems to have been begun in the time of Pisistratus and it continued into late antiquity. The buildings in it were chiefly storerooms for the offerings of the faithful and administrative buildings.

    The eastern part of the area was bounded on the southwest by a section of the Pisistratan Wall and on the northeast by the Cimonian, which had been built just to protect the new exten­sion of the Sanctuary. The exterior part of Cimon's Wall was repaired in the Roman period and strengthened with a new section of fortification wall. In this eastern part of the service area are preserved today the ruins of an underground Roman cistern with vaulted compartments and steps, the foundations of the Roman silos and in the back the ruins of a hypostyle triangular silo of the Periclean period. The western part of the service area was bounded on the south by the Acropolis and on the north and west by the Pisistratan Wall. To the northwest the foundations of the oblong building built of blue-grey stone belong with the Pisistratan silos; it was for storing the first fruits. The remains built over the western half of the Pisistratan storeroom have been identified as the House of the Heralds.

    This building was used by members of the sacred family for their meetings and ceremonies. It consists of four rooms: three on the south built on a higher level and a large one on the north. In the central room of the group on the south, now protected by a Dexion roof, a fresco was found depicting Zeus and the sacred cult paraphernalia. The ruins of the House may be later than the Greater Propylaea. In the Late Roman period a wall was built on top of the Pisistratan storeroom, which began at the southwest corner of the Greater Propylaea and extended as far as the Acropolis hill; it was built of reused material from older edifices. Its construction may have been dictated by the Herulian in cursion (267 AD) to guard the Sanctuary on this side.

    Leaving the Greater Propylaea and the service area we come to the Lesser Propylaea, which were the entrance to the main part of the Sanctuary. They were built over the north Pylon of Pisistratus from Pentelic marble and dedicated, according to the Latin inscription on the architrave, to Demeter by Appius Claudius Pulcher, the consul in 54 AD. In front of it on the north was a paved court, reached by two steps. At the bottom of the court a covered entrance formed a deep vestibule with two Corinthian pillars on the north (their bases are preserved in position) with two pilasters behind them. The extensions of the two pilasters terminated at the southern facade of the Propylaea in a distyle porch whose architrave was supported by Caryatids.

    The Corinthian capitals and pilasters are ornamented with winged beasts (lions and bulls) and crowned by hexagonical abaci. Two of these have been placed on the wall east of the Propylaea and two are displayed in the Museum courtyard. The entablature has an Ionic architrave and a Doric frieze adorned with symbols of the Demeter cult: caskets, sheaves of corn, poppies and bucrania in low relief. The pediment was undecorated. One of the Caryatids is in the Museum and the other is in Cambridge.

    From the Lesser Propylaea a section of the Sacred or Processional Way led to the Telesterion. This road has preserved part of its marble paving in the southwest section. It belongs to the Roman period and was indeed the last of the many reconstructions of it that had been carried out over the centuries. On either side the road was embellished with statues and other dedications with their bases, some of which still survive.

    Following the Sacred Way through the Sanctuary we come on our right, on the side of the cavernous rock, to the triangular 4th c. AD retaining wall of the Plutoneion. In the middle of the precinct court are the foundations of a small building in antis that has been identified as the Temple of Pluto. In the 4th c. this temple replaced an older one of the time of Pisistratus that was on the same spot. Here the faithful may have watched the reenactment of the annual return of Kore
    to Eleusis. Here too, according to the Orphic Hymn, were the Gates of Hades.

    Exedra. Just south of the Plutoneion, cut into the east side of the rock, an exedra is preserved that was approached from the Processional Way by a flight of steps that was also cut into the rock. Perhaps from this Exedra the faithful watched some sacred rite being performed nearby.
    Temple of Hecate. South of the Exedra a flight of steps, some cut into the rock and others built of poros, led to a rectangular terrace on which traces survive of the foundations of a building identified as the Temple of Hecate.

    Agelastos Petra ("Mirthless Stone"). At this point on the road, on its eastern side, a small rock can be seen projecting above its surface. It has been identified as the Agelastos Petra, on which, according to a later tradition mentioned by Callimachus, Demeter sat down to rest when she arrived at Eleusis.

    Treasury A. Further south and on the right of the road is a large rock with a depression 0.53 m. deep in the top. It may have been a sort of treasury used for the offerings of the faithful.From this point we can clearly see in the background on the right a section of the Pisistratan Wall. It consists of three parts: the foundation, a low structure built of large flat unworked stones, the base, of polygonal masonry in blue-grey Eleusinian stone (plainly visible), and the upper part built with unbaked clay bricks (see under the Dexion). As well as this section east of the Sacred Way and the section we saw west of the Greater Propylaea, we shall be able later to trace the line of the wall south of the Telesterion below the Museum courtyard and virtually all around the area of the hill. Unlike the sanctuary walls of the previous periods, which chiefly served as retaining walls for the terrace on which the Telesterion was built, the Pisistratan Wall also had a military pur­pose, for in time of war it protected both the Sanctuary and the city, which it also surrounded. In the Classical and Roman periods, when the Sanctuary had grown still larger in extent, the new sections of the walls built to protect the Sanctuary also had a military purpose.

    Continuing south along the Processional Way we pass Temple F (or Treasury B) on our right, whose remains have survived southwest of Treasury A. It was built on an artificially made terrace (14.10 x 11.20 m.) approached from the east by ten steps. It was a tetrastyle temple in antis with a shallow pronaos and nearly square cella. Temple F (or Treasury Β) is Roman in date and may have been dedicated to Sabina, the wife of Hadrian. The socalled Parthenonian sculptures, some of which are on display in the Museum, came from this building.

    The south end of the Processional Way brings us to the northeast door of the Telesterion, the most sacred and important edifice in the Sanctuary.
    Tradition has it that the first Telesterion was built in the Mycenean period as a home for Demeter. Later it became the hall in which events connected with the lives of Demeter and Kore were reenacted and the faithful were initiated into the Mysteries.

    The present ruins of the Telesterion belong to its four last building phases. Its square plan was due to the design by Ictinus; little progress was made, however, because of difficulties in the building and the death of Pericles. In the post-Periclean period, according to tradition, three young architects continued its construction. The first was Coroibus, who erected 42 columns (6 x 7) to support the upper floor. His work, which ended with the joining up of the columns, was continued by
    Metagenes, who built a diazoma on top of the epistyles, possibly an interior frieze, and a second one in the style of a row of columns. After him Xenocles roofed the hall and made the so-called opaion (aperture) in approximately the middle of the roof for light and ventilation. The portico erected by the Eleusinian architect Philo was added to the east side of the Telesterion in the time of Demetrius of Phalerum (317-307 BC). The Stoa of Philo is of the Doric order and has fourteen columns, twelve of them in the facade.

    In Roman Imperial times the Telesterion was burnt down by the invading Costoboci, perhaps in 170 AD. The rebuilding of the Telesterion, attributed to Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius, followed the old plan of the Classical period. The length of the Hall of Ceremonies was increased by 2.15 m., however, by cutting into the side of the hill, so that today it is almost square in plan, 56 x 54.50 m. All kinds of stones and many architectural fragments were employed in its construction.

    On the interior of each of the sides of the Telesterion there were eight tiers of seats, from which the initiates watched the Mysteries. The seats, many of which still survive on the west side, were either cut into the rock, where it existed, or were built up with stone blocks, which in the Roman period were faced with marble. The banks of seats were interrupted by six doors, two each on the north, east and south sides, from which the interior of the temple was accessible.

    The Anaktoron stood almost in the center of the hall. It was rectangular in plan, 14.20 * 5.60 m., and in it were put the sacred objects of Demeter that symbolized her presence in the temple. Entry into it was forbidden. Only the hierophantes might enter in order to perform the mystic rites and display the sacred objects to the initiates. The Anaktoron was rebuilt in each new Telesterion, regardless of its size, on the site of the Mycenean megaron. The unsuitability of the east slope of the hill for the location of a temple, even though it had been sanctified by building the house of the goddess there, made it necessary in later times to solve the problem of each time finding the space on which to build a new and larger Telesterion. The solution was to build an artificial terrace, formed by cutting into the rocky side of the hill on the west and banking up the slope of the hill on the east with strong revetment walls. Within this fill are preserved traces of foundations which reveal the history of all the previous Telesteria built on this site previous to the remains of the last four chronological phases. These foundations are visible in the section excavated in the northeast part of the temple. In the lowest level can be seen part of the foundations belonging to the Mycenean Megaron Β. The emple was rectangular in plan with two columns on the longitudinal axis. There was a portico with steps at the front. At the south end of the stratigraphic section two parallel walls can be seen. The first, built of blue-grey Eleusinian stone in the Lesbian polygonal style, has been identified as the south wall of the Solonian Telesterion, which also had a rectangular plan and measured 24 x 14 m. The second, more southerly wall, built of poros, has been identified as the south wall of the Pisistratan Telesterion. This was an almost square hall, 25.30 x 27.10 m., whose roof was supported by twenty-two Ionic columns.
    On the interior, along the north, south and west sides, were nine tiers of narrow seats (w. 0.30 m.), from which the faithful watched the Mysteries, probably standing. At the east end of the hall was a prostoon, 27.15 x 4.55 m., with ten Doric columns on the façade and one behind each of the end columns. A large number of architectural fragments from the entablature of the temple have survived and a reconstruction of it can be seen in the first room in the Museum.

    Finally, four column bases made of different kinds of stone are visible in the section. These have been identified as the columns of the Cimonian Telesterion that replaced the Pisistratan one, which was burnt down by the Persians (480-479 BC). Very little is known of the new Telesterion, which was never finished because of Cimon's ostracism (461 BC). It was oblong in plan, 50 x 27 m., and its roof must have been carried by 3 x 7 Ionic columns. Leaving behind the remains of the different phases of the Telesterion and passing through the Stoa of Philo, the
    visitor comes to the East Court of the Sanctuary, in which various dedicatory bases and inscriptions are preserved. South of the East Court and the Telesterion stretches the South Court. This court at tained its present size in the 4th c. BC. At that time the south section of the Periclean Wall went out of use and a new section of wall, known as the Lycurgan, was constructed further to the south in order to extend the area of the Telesterion. The new section of the wall imitated the isodomic masonry of the Periclean Wall, although it was built in 360 BC.

    Bouleuterion. At the southeast corner of the so-called "Lycurgan" Wall the foundations can be seen of an oblong rectangular building that has been identified as the 4th c. Bouleuterion. It consists of three rooms, of which the central one is semicircular at the back. It was here that the Sacred Council of Elders, the City Council and sometimes the Council of Five Hundred met. Votive stelae of persons who had rendered services to the Sanctuary were set up in front of the Bouleuterion.

    Southeast Roman Portico. In Roman times a portico was built on top of the remains of the Bouleuterion. The stylobate of its columns can be clearly seen. The Portico was the same length as the Bouleuterion but only half its width. In later years a semicircular structure was built over the central and west rooms of the first Bouleuterion. The remains are visible of concentric semicircles of which the innermost was stepped.
    The outer one ended in pilasters between which stood five columns. It is not sure whether the semicircular structure was built after the destruction of the Portico or whether the two together constituted a single building, also a bouleuterion.

    Storerooms. Between the southern tower of the Periclean Wall and the eastern tower of the "Lycurgan" Wall lie the ruins of a long building with six rooms. Its floor is at a much lower level than that of the Court; it may have served as a storehouse for the offerings of the faithful. South Gate. In the Roman period the opening of the South Gate of the "Lycurgan" enceinte was reduced in width and a kind of passage was built in the interior part.

    Southwest Portico. West of the South Gate passage can be seen the foundations of a Late Roman portico. At the front it had five columns between pilasters and a second colonnade on the inside, of which the stylobate and some column bases have been preserved.

    Stepped Terrace. On the west side of the South Court, between the wall of the Telesteion and the Portico of the "Lycurgan" Wall a raised terrace, perhaps of the Roman period, was cut into the rock. It was probably a kind of theatre from which a particular group of persons watched some spectacle being enacted in the South Court. North and south of the terrace steps lead to it and to the wide court behind the Telesterion.

    Terrace West of the Telesterion, or Upper Court. 70 m. long by 1.45 m. wide, his terrace is west of and some 7.35 m. higher than the level of the Telesterion. Its western edge is bounded by the "Lycurgan" Wall that separated the Sanctuary from the city and the extension of which westwards of the Telesterion replaced an earlier, possibly Cimonian, dividing wall. This terrace was probably constructed in the Roman period to serve as a court for the temple built on the rock of the Panayitsa at its northern end. Temple L 10. This temple was erected at the northern end of the Upper Court, possibly in the time of Marcus Aurelius, in honour of Faustina the Elder, wife of Antoninus Pius, who was honoured after her death as the New Demeter. The foundations of the temple are visible; it had a prostoon in the front with six columns
    and a tile-roofed cella with a facade of two columns between pilasters. The west wall of the temple was supported by the "Lycurgan" boundary wall, which at its northwest corner ran to the west of the hill.

    Steps NW of the Telesterion. These are Roman in date and were built to serve Temple L 10. Returning to the south end of the Upper Court, we can, after visiting the Museum and seeing the works exhibited in the courtyard, go through the modern iron fence that separates it and take the hill path to the southern part of the Sanctuary outside the city wall. On our left stands the so-called "Lycurgan" Wall, whose southern gateway is protected on its right side by a square tower. In front of
    the tower are the ruins of the Sacred House.
    With careful attention it is possible to make out its different building phases. It was constructed in the Late Geometric period upon an exedra oriented north-south. It had three continuous rooms open on the east and a corridor. At the beginning of the 6th c. a small square room with an altar replaced the Geometric building. In the time of Pisistratus this building was levelled and a polygonal wall built there, within which a new building of poros was erected, but unfortunately its plan cannot be reconstructed. Southeast of the Sacred House some Late Roman
    remains have survived, perhaps a Mithraion, and the foundations of a Roman Gymnasium.

    Proceeding northwards outside the eastern wall of the Sanctuary, we can see on our left two groups of Roman cisterns belonging to the time of Hadrian: the first abutting on the eastern part of the "Lycurgan" Wall and the second on the Periclean Wall.

    North of the cisterns and to the right of the road are preserved the foundations of various public buildings that were built in the Roman period to cater for the needs of the faithful. These include baths, hostels and thermae. Having admired the Periclean Wall and the Roman wall on the left of the road, the visitor can return through the East Triumphal Arch to the Roman Court, from which point he began his visit to the Sanctuary of Eleusis.


    *extract from mrsKalliope Preka-Alexndri’s “ELEUSIS

    books and postcards
    books published by cyceon tales
    postcards published by cyceon tales
    third party publications about Eleusis

    When you visit or interact with our site, we collect information through the use of cookies. This allows us to provide you with the best experience possible, to show you the most relevant features - to make using the website easier for you, and to deliver promotional content tailored to your preferences


    When you visit or interact with our site, we collect information through the use of cookies. This allows us to provide you with the best experience possible, to show you the most relevant features - to make using the website easier for you, and to deliver promotional content tailored to your preferences

    Read more