ELEUSIS, an ancient Greek city in Attica about 14 m. N.W. of Athens, occupying the eastern part of a rocky ridge close to the shore opposite the island of Salamis. Its fame is due chiefly to its Mysteries, for which see Mystery. Tradition carries back the origin of Eleusis to the highest antiquity. In the earlier period of its history it seems to have been an independent rival of Athens, and it was afterwards reckoned one of the twelve Old Attic cities. A considerable portion of its small territory was occupied by the plains of Thria, noticeable for their fertility, though the hopes of the husbandmen were not unfrequently disappointed by the blight of the south wind. To the west was the or Rharian Plain, where Demeter is said to have sown the first seeds of corn; and on its confines was the field called Orgas, planted with trees consecrated to Demeter and Persephone. The sacred buildings were destroyed by Alaric in A.D. 396, and it is not certain whether they were restored before the extinction of all pagan rites by Theodosius. The present village on the site is of Albanian origin; it is called Lefsina or Lepsina, officially .
The Site. - Systematic excavations, begun in 1882 by D. Philios for the Greek Archaeological Society, have laid bare the whole of the sacred precinct. It is now possible to trace its boundaries as extended at various periods, and also many successive stages in the history of the Telesterion, or Hall of Initiation. These complete excavations have shown the earlier and partial excavations to have been in some respects deceptive.
In front of the main entrance of the precinct is a large paved area, with the foundations of a temple in it, usually identified as that of Artemis Propylaea; in their present form both area and temple date from Roman times; and on each side of the Great Propylaea are the foundations of a Roman triumphal arch. Just below the steps of the Propylaea, on the left as one enters, there has been discovered, at a lower level than the Roman pavement, the curb surrounding an early well. This is almost certainly the mentioned by Pausanias. The Great Propylaea is a structure of Roman imperial date, in close imitation of the Propylaea on the Athenian Acropolis. It is, however, set in a wall of 6th-century work, though repaired in later times. This wall encloses a sort of outer court, of irregular triangular shape. The Small Propylaea is not set exactly opposite to the Great Propylaea, but at an angle to it; an inscription on the architrave records that it was built by Appius Claudius Pulcher, the contemporary of Cicero. It is also set in a later wall that occupies approximately the same position as two earlier ones, which date from the 6th and 5th centuries respectively, and must have indicated the boundary of the inner precinct. From the Small Propylaea a paved road of Roman date leads to one of the doors of the Telesterion. Above the Small Propylaea, partly set beneath the overhanging rock, is the precinct of Pluto; it has a curious natural cleft approached by rock-cut steps. Several inscriptions and other antiquities were found here, including the famous head, now in Athens, usually called Eubouleus, though the evidence for its identification is far from satisfactory. A little farther on is a rock-cut platform, with a well, approached by a broad flight of steps, which probably served for spectators of the sacred procession. Beyond this, close to the side of the Telesterion, are the foundations of a temple on higher ground; it has been conjectured that this was the temple of Demeter, but there is no evidence that such a building existed in historic times, apart from the Telesterion.
The Telesterion, or Hall of Initiation, was a large covered building, about 170 ft. square. It was surrounded on all sides by steps, which must have served as seats for the mystae, while the sacred dramas and processions took place on the floor of the hall: these seats were partly built up, partly cut in the solid rock; in later times they appear to have been cased with marble. There were two doors on each side of the hall, except the north-west, where it is cut out of the solid rock, and a rock terrace at a higher level adjoins it; this terrace may have been the station of those who were not yet admitted to the full initiation. The roof of the hall was carried by rows of columns, which were more than once renewed.
The architectural history of the hall has been traced by Professor W. Dörpfeld with the help of the various foundations that have been brought to light. The earliest building on the site is a small rectangular structure, with walls of polygonal masonry, built of the rock quarried on the spot. This was succeeded by a square hall, almost of the same plan as the later Telesterion, but about a quarter of the size; its eastern corner coincides with that of the later building, and it appears to have had a portico in front like that which, in the later hall, was a later addition. Its roof was carried by columns, of which the bases can still be seen. This building has with great probability been assigned to the time of Peisistratus; it was destroyed by the Persians. Between this event and the erection of the present hall, which must be substantially the one designed by Ictinus in the time of Pericles, there must have been a restoration, of which we may see the remains in a set of round sinkings to carry columns, which occur only in the north-east part of the hall; a set of bases arranged on a different system occur in the south-west part, and it is difficult to see how these two systems could be reconciled unless there were some sort of partition between the two parts of the hall. Both sets were removed to make way for the later columns, of which the bases and some of the drums still remain. These later columns are shown, by inscriptions and other fragments built into their bases, to belong to later Roman times. At the eastern and southern corners of the hall of Ictinus are projecting masses of masonry, which may be the foundation for a portico that was to be added; but perhaps they were only buttresses, intended to resist the thrust of the roof of this huge structure, which rested at its northern and western corners against the solid rock of the hill. On the south-east side the hall is faced with a portico, extending its whole width; the marble pavement of this portico is a most conspicuous feature of Eleusis at the present day. The portico was added to the hall by the architect Philo, under Demetrius of Phalerum, about the end of the 4th century B.C. It was never completed, for the fluting of its columns still remains unfinished.
The Telesterion took up the greater part of the sacred precinct, which seems merely to have served to keep the profane away from the temple. The massive walls and towers of the time of Pericles, which resemble those of a fortress, are quite close in on the south and east; later, probably in the 4th century B.C., the precinct was extended farther to the south, and at its end was erected a building of considerable extent, including a curious apsidal chamber, for which a similar but larger curved structure was substituted in Roman times. This was probably the Bouleuterion. The precinct was full of altars, dedications and inscriptions; and many fragments of sculptures, pottery and other antiquities, from the earliest to the latest days of Greece, have been discovered. It is to be noted that the subterranean passages which some earlier explorers imagined to be connected with the celebration of the mysteries, have proved to be nothing but cisterns or watercourses.
The excavations of Eleusis, and the antiquities found in them, have been published from time to time in the and in the of the Greek Archaeological Society, especially for 1887 and 1895. See also D. Philios, Eleusis, ses mystères, ses ruines, et son musée. Inscriptions have also been published in the Bulletin de correspondance hellénique.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)