Photo: European Commission

Elefsina is smallest, oldest city in history of capitals of culture

The ancient Greek city of Eleusis or Elefsina is fast approaching the long-awaited date of February 4 when festivities will begin to mark its declaration as one of three 2023 European Capitals of Culture along with Timișoara in Romania and Veszprém-Balaton in Hungary. The latter had its grand opening on January 21 and Timișoara will kick off on February 17.
28. January 2023 9:38

Elefsina, known in ancient Greece as Eleusis, is home to 25,000 people and sits about 20 kilometres west of Athens. It is the smallest and oldest city in the history of the European Capitals of Culture program that was instituted in 1985 and which has, to date, been awarded to more than 60 cities across the European Union and slightly beyond.

In Elefsina, the birthplace of the great ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, 465 events will take place in 30 locations. The program for the year has been named “Mysteries of Transition” and will bring together 192 Greek and 137 international artists in 17 disciplines. The concept is built on three thematic pillars: people, society, and environment and work.

Thousands of years ago, people came to Eleusis hoping to gain insight into the mystery of death with the help of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The ancient festival was celebrated in honour of the goddess Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, and was regarded as the most sacred of all the mysteries in the Ancient Greek religion.

Ancient Greeks partook in the festival each year from around 1600 BC to 392 CE, and it took nearly a whole year to prepare for the secretive rites. Based on the little that is known about the ritual, experts believe that participants would walk along the Sacred Way in a parade that lasted 10 days until they reached the Temple of Demeter in Eleusis, where they would take a sip of a sacred drink called Kykeon after days of abstaining from food.

Once the substance had been drunk, participants would dance ecstatically and re-enact the story of Demeter and Persephone. The ancient temple of Demeter at Eleusis was burned down by the Persians in 484 BC in the Greco-Persian Wars. It was not until the administration of Pericles that an attempt was made to rebuild it.

Elefsina was transformed from the 19th century onwards into the productive engine of Greece and one of its largest industrial centres. Signs of industrialisation are prominent throughout the city.

However, this was also a curse because the oil refineries, cement factories and other industries that were built right up until the 1990s brought more than just employment and prosperity.

Elefsina hopes that being a European Capital of Culture 2023 will bring prosperity to the city. They also hope it will bring many visitors from all over the world.

The Opening Ceremony on February 4 will mark the official start of the overall artistic program. The celebration will be open to all, from 7pm on the seafront. The central event, “Mystery_0 Mysteries of Transition,” is according to the conception of General Artistic Director Michail Marmarinos, and will be directed by distinguished British director Chris Baldwin.

The grand stage of the opening ceremony will be the sea itself, a personal and universal narrative, as well as the music holding together the events and revealing the “Mystery_0 Mysteries of Transition.”

The celebrations will begin with the arrival of four large processions on land and sea from four distinct points from Europe, Attica and the city of Eleusis itself. This will comprise the first part of the ceremony. The fifth informal procession is also the arrival of all visitors and invitees to the grand event.

From morning until late at night, Elefsina will celebrate according to a rich program of exhibitions, concerts, parties and a multitude of parallel events throughout the city. There will be additional events on Sunday, February 5.

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