Elefsina, an area 20 kilometers west of Athens, was announced as Europe’s Cultural Capital for 2023. If you’ve driven through Elefsina, or “Eleusis,” the decision may shock you – it appears fairly nondescript and industrial. But the area was home to one of the most important spiritual rituals of antiquity, the Eleusinian Mysteries. Marking the area as Cultural Capital is something of a reclamation for Eleusis, which became one of Greece’s most significant industrial centers in the 19th century. Now that many of these refineries and factors have closed, Eleusis is as ripe for its cultural rebirth as the ancient pilgrims to its mysteries.
“Elefsina, as a European Capital of Culture, now has the opportunity to be internationally recognized for its rich ancient history but also reintroduce itself as a place of social development and innovation,” said Culture Minister Lina Mendoni this past month at an event heralding the title to the city.
The programming officially begins February 4, 2023 by the sea with an event titled “Mystery_0 Mysteries of Transition.” According to the organizers, this programming will draw “from the rich history of the city, 2023 Eleusis forms an integrated artistic, research and educational program, with the general title Mysteries of Transition, which focuses on the three Axes: People – Society / Labour / Environment.”
The 2023 initiation of this programming is inspired by the ancient mysteries at Eleusis, of which many important historical figures were initiated, including the likes of Plato and Marcus Aurelius. Initiates were tight-lipped, and to this day there remains much debate over what was seen during the mysteries that made its initiates no longer fear death. The book “The Immortality Key by Brain Murarescu, which posits a theory that psychoactive substances were ingested, brought Eleusis back into popular consciousness after its 2020 release and the author’s appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast. The rites are especially connected to the myth of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Themes of life, death, and rebirth are intimately connected to the harvest and the rites at Eleusis.
What exactly happened at Eleusis? We may never know, but we’re excited to see this place with a post-industrial and ancient legacy transformed into a place for the arts to thrive in Greece. Events will include a film festival on the feast day of St. George, art installations, concerts, and more. Click here to see the full program.