Up to 14 Guests
Athens – Eleusina Full Day Private tour
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Eleusis private tour
- Acropolis – Propylaea – Parthenon – Erechtheion – Temple of Athena Nike
- Theater of Dionysus – Herod Atticus Odeon
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Panathenaic Stadium
- Mount Lycabettus
- Hellenic Parliament – Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Plateia Syntagmatos
- Academy of Athens – University of Athens – National Library of Greece
- The Monastery of Daphni
- Archaeological Site and Museum of Eleusis
Sightseeing in Athens starts with the hill of Acropolis which will make your day. On the historical hill, you will have the opportunity to see the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Temple of the Athena Nike, the monumental gateway (Propylaea), the Erechtheum and of course the famous Parthenon, the main temple dedicated to the virgin goddess Athena.
After the Acropolis, we will head towards the Temple Of Zeus, the biggest temple in antiquity by way of Hadrians Arch and from there we will visit Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896. Next driving alongside the National Garden, we will see the changing of the guard (Evzones) in front of the old palace, which is today Parliament House, above the central square of Athens.
After that, we will drive to Panepistimiou Street one of the most historical streets of Athens to see numerous neoclassical buildings still standing and dating back to the late 19th century but more importantly we’ll see the architectural trilogy of Athens (The Academy – The University – The National Library). Then moving into the historical center of the city we will drive up the highest hill of Athens, Lycabettus Hill, where you’ll have the best panoramic view of the city, from the hill of Acropolis to the Aegean Sea.
After that we will drive to the western suburbs following the Sacred Way that connects since the antiquity Athens with Eleusis. On half way we will stop at Dafni Monastery to admire the incredible mosaics date back in the 11th c. in a peacefull place by the forest.
Finally we will arrive at Eleusis to visit the sanctuary of Demeter at the so-called gate to the underworld. You will visit the temple were the Eleusinian Mysteries took place and see the findings exhibiting at the museum, while you have a view of the nowadays factories next to the site.
Inclusions - Exclusions
Private Tours are personal and flexible just for you and your party.
Professional Drivers with Deep knowledge of history. [Not licensed to accompany you in any site.]
Hotel pickup and drop-off
Transport by private vehicle
Skip the line to purchase site tickets.[34€ for over 6 yo for Non-EU & 24 yo for EU Citizens]
- Bottled water
- Entrance Fees [34€ for over 6 yo for Non-EU & 24 yo for EU Citizens]
- Licensed Tour guide upon request depending on availability [Additional cost – 250 €]
- Airport Pick Up and drop-off (Additional cost)
Admission Fees for Sites:
SUMMER PERIOD: 1 April – 31 October
WINTER PERIOD: 1 November – 31 March
Combined Ticket valid for 5 days:
- Acropolis of Athens
- Ancient Agora of Athens
- Roman Agora of Athens
- Temple of Zeus
- Archaeological Site of Lykeion
- Hadrian’s Library
(Valid for all sites) Full : €30,00
Full : €20,00 – Reduced: € 10,00
Winter : 08:30 – 17:00
Summer: 08:00 – 20:00
Temple of Zeus:
Full : € 8,00 – Reduced: € 4,00
Winter : 08:30 – 17:00
Summer: 08:00 – 20:00
08:00 – 15:30 (Mon – Tues closed)
Full: € 6,00 Reduced: € 3,00
Winter : 08:30 – 15:00
Summer: 08:00 – 19:30
- 1 January: closed
- 6 January: 08:00 – 15:00
- Shrove Monday: 08:00 – 15:00
- 25 March: closed
- Good Friday: until 12:00 – 17:00
- Holy Saturday: 08:00 – 15:00
- Easter Sunday: closed
- Easter Monday: 08:00 – 20:00
- 1 May: closed
- Holy Spirit Day: 08:00 – 20:00
- 15 August: 08:00 – 20:00
- 28 October: 08:00 – 15:00
- 25 December: closed
- 26 December: closed
- Escorting teachers during the visits of schools and institutions of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education and of military schools.
- Members of Societies and Associations of Friends of Museums and Archaeological Sites throughout Greece with the demonstration of certified membership card
- Members of the ICOM-ICOMOS
- Persons possessing a free admission card
- The employees of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Archaeological Receipts Fund, upon presentation of their service ID card.
- The official guests of the Greek government, with the approval of the General Director of Antiquities.
- Young people, under the age of 18, after demonstrating the Identity Card or passport to confirm the age.
Free admission days:
- 6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri)
- 18 April (International Monuments Day)
- 18 May (International Museums Day)
- The last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days)
- Every first Sunday from November 1st to March 31st
- 28 October
Reduced admission for:
- Greek citizens and citizens of other Member – States of the European Union who are over 65 years old, upon presentation of their ID card or passport for verification of their age and country of origin.
- Holders of a solidarity card
- Holders of a valid unemployment card.
- Large families’ parents of children up to 23 yrs old, or up to 25 yrs old (on military service/studying), or child with disabilities regardless the age, having a certified pass of large families, certification from the Large Family Association or a family status certificate issued by the Municipality
- Persons with disabilities (67 % or over) and one escort, upon presentation of the certification of disability issued by the Ministry of Health or a medical certification from a public hospital, where the disability and the percentage of disability are clearly stated.
- Single-parent families with minors, upon presentation of a family status certificate issued by the Municipality. In the case of divorced parents, only the parent holding custody of the children
- The police officers of the Department of Antiquity Smuggling of the Directorate of Security
- Tourist guides upon presentation of their professional ID card.
- University students and students at Technological Educational Institutes or equivalent schools from countries outside the EU by showing their student ID.
Amenities for the physically challenged:
Elevator available for wheelchairs, people with diminished abilities and any parent attending two or more infants on her/his own. The elevator is located about 350 m. far from the main entrance of the archaeological site.
Users of the elevator should contact in advance for details and terms (+30 210 3214172). The facility is not available during extreme weather conditions and strong winds.
The Acropolis hill (acro – edge, polis – city), so-called the “Sacred Rock” of Athens, is the most important site of the city and constitutes one of the most recognizable monuments of the world. It is the most significant reference point of ancient Greek culture, as well as the symbol of the city of Athens itself as it represents the apogee of artistic development in the 5th century BCE. During Perikles’ Golden Age, ancient Greek civilization was represented in an ideal way on the hill and some of the architectural masterpieces of the period were erected on its ground.
The Propylaea is the monumental entrances to the sacred area dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of the city. Built by the architect Mnesicles with Pentelic marble, their design was avant-garde. To the south-west of the Propylaea, on a rampart protecting the main entrance to the Acropolis, is the Ionian temple of Apteros Nike, which is now being restored.
The Parthenon. It is the most important and characteristic monument of the ancient Greek civilization and still remains its international symbol. It was dedicated to Athena Parthenos (the Virgin), the patron goddess of Athens. It was built between 447 and 438 B.C.E. and its sculptural decoration was completed in 432 B.C.E. The construction of the monument was initiated by Perikles, the supervisor of the whole work was Pheidias, the famous Athenian sculptor, while Iktinos (or Ictinus) and Kallikrates (Callicrates) were the architects of the building. The temple is built in the Doric order and almost exclusively of Pentelic marble. It is peripheral, with eight columns on each of the narrow sides and seventeen columns on each of the long ones. The central part of the temple, called the cella, sheltered the famous chryselephantine cult statue of Athena, made by Pheidias. The rest of sculptural decoration, also by Phidias, was completed by 432 BCE. The sculptural decoration of the Parthenon is a unique combination of the Doric metopes and triglyphs on the entablature, and the Ionic frieze on the walls of the cella. The metopes depict the Gigantomachy on the east side, the Amazonomachy on the west, the Centauromachy on the south, and scenes from the Trojan War on the north. The Parthenon, the Doric temple, the pinnacle of Pericles’ building program, is beyond question the building most closely associated with the city of Athens, a true symbol of ancient Greek culture and its universal values.
The Temple of Zeus:
This marvel is right in the center of Athens. It is the largest temple in Greece. Building began in the 6th century BCE by Peisistratos, (but it was abandoned for lack of funds). Various other leaders attempted to finish it, but it was left to Hadrian to complete the work in AD 131 – taking more than 700 years in total to build. The temple is impressive for the sheer size of it. Originally it had 104 Corinthian columns (17 m high and with a base diameter of 1.7 m). Unfortunately, only 15 remains (the fallen one was blown down in a gale in 1852). Hadrian also put up a colossal statue of Zeus (in the cella) and because he was such a modest fellow he placed an equally large one of himself next to it.
The Roman emperor Hadrian had a great affection for Athens. Although he did his fair share of spiriting its classical artwork to Rome, he also embellished the city with many monuments influenced by classical architecture. His arch is a lofty monument of Pentelic marble that stands where busy Leoforos Vasilissis Olgas and Leoforos Vasilissis Amalias meet. Hadrian erected it in AD 132, probably to commemorate the consecration of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The inscriptions show that it was also intended as a dividing point between the ancient and Roman city. The northwest frieze reads, ‘This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus’, while the southeast frieze states, ‘This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus’.
The Old Olympic Stadium/ Panathenaic Stadium:
The grand Panathenaic Stadium lies between two pine-covered hills(between the neighborhoods of Mets and Pangrati). It was originally built in the 4th century BCE as a venue for the Panathenaic athletic contests. It’s said that at Hadrian’s inauguration in AD 120, 1000 wild animals were sacrificed in the arena. Later, the seats were rebuilt in Pentelic marble by Herodes Atticus. There are seats for 70,000 spectators, a running track and a central area for field events. After hundreds of years of disuse, the stadium was completely restored in 1895 (by a wealthy Greek benefactor Georgios Averof) to host the first modern Olympic Games the following year. It’s a faithful replica of the original Panathenaic Stadium. It made a stunning backdrop to the archery competition and the marathon finish during the 2004 Olympics. It’s occasionally used for concerts and public events, and the annual Athens marathon finishes here.
The Changing of the Guards:
Although the guards change hourly, there is a big ceremony once a week. These guards, the Evzones, stand motionless at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Getting into this unit is an honor, and they have to be over 6 ft. tall. They wear white tights, a white skirt, a white blouse with full sleeves, an embroidered vest, red cap, and shoes with big pom-poms. but don’t let the outfit fool you, these guys are the best of the best. The uniform is based on the clothing of the Klephts, mountain fighters who fought the Turks from the 15th Century until Greek independence in the 19th Century.
The Academy of Science:
The Academy Building constitutes one of three parts in an “architectural trilogy”. It was founded with the Constitutional Decree of March 18th, 1926, as an Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Fine Arts. The same Decree appointed its first members, who were all eminent representatives of the scientific, intellectual and artistic circles of that era. Designed in 1859, by the Danish architect Theophil Hansen (1813-1891, the younger brother of the University’s architect, Christian Hansen). It is considered the most important work of Hansen and is regarded by some experts as the most beautiful neoclassic building worldwide. The architect’s source of inspiration was the classical architecture of fifth century B.C.E. Athens, as portrayed in the monuments of the Acropolis. In particular, Hansen imitated the Ionian rhythm that dominates the building of the Academy, from the Erechtheion monument. The essence of all ancient Greek tradition can be found in the building’s sculptural and pictorial decoration; simultaneously the character of that era’s Hellenism and its visions for the future are also expressed.
The University of Athens:
The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is the largest state institution of higher learning in Greece, and among the largest universities in Europe. The splendid Athens University was designed by the Danish architect Christian Hansen and completed in 1864. It was the first of the Architectural Trilogy to be built. It still serves as the university’s administrative headquarters. To its left is the Athens Academy, designed by Hansen’s brother Theophile. Unfortunately, neither is open to the public.
The National Library:
The National Library of Greece was built at the end of the 19th century, as the last of the Architectural of Athens, a group of three neoclassical buildings which also includes the Academy and the University. The building was designed by Theophil Hansen, a Danish architect who had studied classical architecture in Vienna and Athens. (He had also previously worked on the University – together with his older brother Christian, as well as on the Zappeion and the Academy of Athens). Construction of the National Library started in 1887 and was completed fifteen years later. Theophil Hansen died in 1891 and would never see his building completed. The National Library was designed as a Doric temple flanked by two wings and built almost entirely with Pentelic marble. The design of the Doric building was based on that of the Propylaea on the Acropolis. (It is devoid of any sculptural ornamentation; even the tympanum is left undecorated). Two wide winding staircases lead to the entrance of the “temple”. The statue standing between the staircases shows one of the benefactors of the library, the merchant Panaghis Athanassiou Vallianos. The building houses a large collection of books, maps, newspapers, and manuscripts in Greek and other languages. Most interesting is the collection of Greek manuscripts, some of which are more than 1400 years old.
The Hill of Lycabettus:
The name Lykavittus appears in various legends. Popular stories suggest it was once the refuge of wolves, (Lycos in Greek), which is possibly the origin of its name (means “the one [the hill] that is walked by wolves”). Mythologically, Lycabettus is credited to Athena, who created it when she dropped a mountain she had been carrying from Pallene for the construction of the Acropolis.
There is a path that leads to the summit Alternatively, take the funicular railway, or Teleferik or a drive up to the top. Don’t try to walk up (pilgrims used to, but it’s an Everest for the faithless). The panorama from the top is priceless – all the way to Mount Parnes in the north, west to Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf, with the Acropolis sitting like a ruminative lion halfway to the sea. There’s also a cafe/restaurant up there. Perched on the summit is the little Chapel of Agios Georgios, floodlit like a beacon over the city at night. The open-air Lykavittos Theatre, northeast of the summit, hosts concerts in summer. And many famous artists have performed there.
The Daphni Monastery:
Daphni or Dafni is an 11th– century Byzantine monastery in the suburb of Chaidari. It is situated on the Sacred Way that led to Eleusis. “Daphni” is the modern Greek name that means “laurel grove”, derived from Daphneion (Lauretum).
The Daphni Monastery was founded towards the end of the 6th c A.D. on the site of the Sanctuary of Apollo which had been desecrated by the Goths in 395. The Sanctuary of Apollo was built in the Ionic style using the thinnest and smallest columns. The columns stand on a base with an ornamental scroll at the top. One of the four Ionic columns of the ancient Sanctuary of Apollo remains in situ, as it was re-used in the Daphni Monastery. The others were removed and taken to London by Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin (best-known for taking the Parthenon Marbles). They are in the possession of the British Museum; currently not on display but can be seen on the museum’s website.
The first monastery was constructed in the style of a castle with a basilica in the middle. It was fortified with enclosing walls and small cells. This monastery fell into decline when Greece was severely damaged following invasions of barbarians in the 9th-10th c A.D.
During a period of renewed prosperity in the 11th– 12th centuries, the Daphni Monastery was restored. A new octagonal church, a refectory and a chapel for the cemetery were built.
The Daphni Monastery fell into decline after it was sacked by Frankish crusaders in 1205. The region became part of the Duchy of Athens under Othon de la Roche. Othon gave the Monastery to the Cistercian Abbey of Bellevaux, who added their own cloister and twin pointed arches in the Gothic style to the façade of the church. It became a popular burial place for Knights. In 1458, immediately after the coming of the Turks the Cistercians abandoned it and was reoccupied by Orthodox monks who made alterations to the buildings.
In the 1805 Lord Elgin visited the area and took the Ionic columns and other findings destroying parts of the Monastery. During the Greek Revolution it was used as a garrison. In 1838-39 Bavarian troops settled in and in 1883-85 it was used as a lunatic asylum. It suffered severe damage by earthquakes in 1889 and 1897.
Excavations were conducted in 1892 and in 1936-39. Massive damages were occurred during the earthquake of 1999 and in 2011 started restoration works. Today, even though it suffered from the earthquake of 2019, is open to public.
The Daphni Monastery, along with the famous monasteries of Hosios Loukas near Delphi and Nea Moni on the island of Chios, are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their significant historical and architectural value since 1990. They are famed as masterpieces of middle Byzantine architecture, and are especially noted for their sumptuous interior gold mosaics.
The floor plan for the Church is a simple Greek cross-octagon arranged with various levels of light and illumination. The upper church, particularly the dome symbolizes the Heavens while the lower area symbolizes the earth. A square bay in the center of the church is covered by a broad dome. Squinches, small half-domes that span the corner of a square are connected by tall L-shaped piers to form the transition from the square to the circle of the dome. The four squinches in the square bay transform it into an octagon.
A Greek cross is formed by four barrel-vaulted arms of the same length that project from the center bay. Small bays covered with groin vaults that intersect at right angles give the building its rectangular shape.
The interior of the Monastery has an elegant interplay of spaces and light with the windows at the base of the dome illuminating the vertical space above; as the space becomes taller, it also becomes brighter. This graduated light enhances the radiant gold-ground tesserae used to create the remarkable quality of the mosaics.The wide assortment of colored shades of glass tesserae further enhances the mosaics. This group of mosaics is considered one of the most important and best-preserved mosaic cycles from this period. They are evidence of the iconographic and stylistic conceptions formulated at the end of the iconoclastic crisis (AD 843) by the Church of Constantinople. The decoration shows a rigid consistency in the distribution of subject characteristic of Constantinopolitan art.
In Byzantine theology, the church building was a symbol of the Christian universe, intended to reflect the splendor of heaven. The most sacred characters were depicted in the dome and the apse, while below, the dome scenes were arranged from higher to lower levels relating to their level of religious importance.
Visitors are drawn to the most important and famous of the mosaics: Christ Pantocrator (Lord of the Universe) watching over all from the crown of the dome. He is depicted with a stern face and a threatening gaze with only his head and shoulders shown. This medallion is recognized as representing high artistic quality and as “one of the greatest creations in art”. He is the King of Kings and shows strength, austerity and power. The eyebrows are shown with a strong arch to accentuate the vertical lines and the long nose that intersects with the horizontal lines of the halo to create a symbolic cross. Christ is surrounded by sixteen Prophets at the base of the dome, between the windows that illuminate Christ as the dominant figure in the church.
Other important mosaics include: Annunciation of the Mother of God, The Baptism of Christ, The Washing of the Disciples, Entering Jerusalem, Christ at the Last Supper, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection, Dormition of the Mother of God.
The Daphni Monastery was built during a period of renaissance in culture and art and a return to classical traditions. The figures in the mosaics are more naturalistically represented, and they blend more smoothly into their surroundings. Faces are dematerialized, austere and depicted with unemotional expressions. The bodies are heavy and rigid. The pictorial perspective, the figure styles and gestures, the modeling of the figures along with simplicity of design, and the dazzling splendor of color reflecting from the gold and silver tesserae distinguish the Daphni mosaics among the mosaics of the 11th -12th centuries as particularly grand specimens of Byzantine art in general.
Eleusis stood upon a height at a short distance from the sea, and opposite the island of Salamis. Its situation possessed three natural advantages. It was on the road from Athens to Corinth; it was in a very fertile plain; and it was at the head of an extensive bay, formed on three sides by the coast of Attica, and shut in on the south by the island of Salamis. The town itself dates from the most ancient times. It appears to have derived its name from the supposed advent of Demeter. The history of Eleusis is part of the history of Athens.
During the Greco-Persian Wars, the temple of Demeter at Eleusis was burnt by the Persians; and it was rebuilt during the administration of Pericles. Under the Romans it enjoyed great prosperity, as initiation into its mysteries became fashionable among the Roman nobles. It was destroyed by Alaric I in 396 CE, and from that time disappears from history.
The temple of Demeter itself, was the largest in all Greece, and is described as capable of containing as many persons as a theatre. It was considered one of the finest examples of Grecian architecture in marble.
In Byzantine era is mentioned as a “small village”, and shortly before the Ottoman domination the area was deserted by wars, raids and captives.
In 1829 after the Greek War of Independence, Eleusis was a small settlement. By the late 19th century Eleusis changed drastically as new buildings were erected by the new merchant settlers. Also during that period Eleusis became one of the main industrial centers of the Modern Greek State with concrete factory TITAN, Charilaou Soap Factory as well as the distilleries of Botrys and Kronos being established in the area.
After World War II, workers from all parts of Greece moved to Eleusis to work in the industries in the region. Industrial activity, however, developed anarchically on the antiquities and next to the residential area.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiations held for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis. They are the “most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece”. Their basis was an old agrarian cult, and there is some evidence that they were derived from the religious practices of the Mycenean period. The mysteries represented the myth of the abduction of Persephone from her mother Demeter by the king of the underworld Hades, in a cycle with three phases: the descent , the search, and the ascent, with the main theme being the ascent of Persephone and the reunion with her mother.
The rites, ceremonies, and beliefs were kept secret and consistently preserved from antiquity. For the initiated, the rebirth of Persephone symbolized the eternity of life which flows from generation to generation, and they believed that they would have a reward in the afterlife. Since the Mysteries involved visions and conjuring of an afterlife, some scholars believe that the power of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a consistent set of rites, ceremonies and experiences that spanned two millennia, came from psychedelic drugs.
The ancient Greek word “mystery” means “mystery or secret rite” and is related with the verb mueō , which means initiation into the mysteries, and the noun mustēs, which means one initiated. The word mustikós means “connected with mysteries”, or “private, secret”.
Demeter and Persephone
The Mysteries are related to a myth concerning Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility. According to it, Demeter’s daughter Persephone (Kore, “maiden”) was seized by Hades, the god of the underworld, who took her to his kingdom. Distraught, Demeter searched high and low for her daughter. Because of her distress, and in an effort to coerce Zeus to allow the return of her daughter, she caused a terrible drought in which the people suffered and starved, depriving the gods of sacrifice and worship. As a result, Zeus allowed Persephone to return to her mother.
According to the myth, during her search Demeter traveled long distances and had many adventures along the way. In one she taught the secrets of agriculture to Triptolemus. Finally, by consulting Zeus, Demeter reunited with her daughter and the earth returned to its former verdure and prosperity: the first spring.
Zeus pressed by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities, forced Hades to return Persephone. However, it was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Before Persephone was released, Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, (either six or four) which forced her to return to the underworld for some months each year. She was obliged to remain with Hades for six or four months (one month per seed) and lived above ground with her mother for the rest of the year. This left a long period of time when Demeter was unhappy due to Persephone’s absence, neglecting to cultivate the earth. When Persephone returned to the surface, Demeter became joyful and cared for the earth again.
Persephone’s rebirth is symbolic of the rebirth of all plant life and the symbol of eternity of life that flows from the generations that spring from each other. However, there is a different version, according to which the four months during which Persephone is with Hades correspond to the dry Greek summer, a period during which plants are threatened with drought.
Some scholars believe that the Mysteries were intended “to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him”.
The myth was represented in a cycle with three phases: the “descent”, the “search”, and the “ascent” with contrasted emotions from sorrow to joy which roused the mystae to exultation. The main theme was the ascent of Persephone and the reunion with her mother Demeter.
At the beginning of the feast, the priests filled two special vessels and poured them out, the one towards the west, and the other towards the east. The people looking both to the sky and the earth shouted in a magical rhyme “rain and conceive”. In a ritual, a child was initiated from the hearth (the divine fire). The high point of the celebration was “an ear of grain cut in silence”, which represented the force of the new life. The idea of immortality didn’t exist in the mysteries at the beginning, but the initiated believed that they would have a better fate in the underworld. Death remained a reality, but at the same times a new beginning like the plant which grows from the buried seed.
The lesser mysteries were held “once a year in the early spring in the month of flowers, the Anthesterion,” while “the Greater Mysteries were held once a year and every fourth year they were celebrated with special splendor in what was known as the penteteris. “The Lesser Mysteries were held at Agrai in the month of Anthesterion, our February. The initiates were not even admitted to the Greater Mysteries in the same year, but only in September of the following year.”
Under Peisistratos, the Eleusinian Mysteries became pan-Hellenic, and pilgrims flocked from Greece and beyond to participate. Around 300 BC, the state took over control of the Mysteries; they were controlled by two families, the Eumolpidae and the Kerykes. This led to a vast increase in the number of initiates. The only requirements for membership were freedom from “blood guilt”, meaning never having committed murder, and not being a “barbarian” (being unable to speak Greek). Men, women and even slaves were allowed.
To participate in these mysteries one had to swear a vow of secrecy.
Four categories of people participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries:
Priests, priestesses and hierophants.
Initiates, undergoing the ceremony for the first time.
Others who had already participated at least once. They were eligible for the fourth category.
Those who had attained épopteia (contemplation), who had learned the secrets of the greatest mysteries of Demeter.
The Lesser Mysteries took place in the month of Anthesteria under the direction of Athens’ archon basileus. In order to qualify for initiation, participants would sacrifice a piglet to Demeter and Persephone, and then ritually purify themselves in the river Illisos. Upon completion, participants were deemed mystai (“initiates”) worthy of witnessing the Greater Mysteries.
The Greater Mysteries took place in Boedromion , late summer around September – and lasted 10 days.
The first act (on the 14th of Boedromion) was the bringing of the sacred objects from Eleusis to the Eleusinion, a temple at the base of the Acropolis of Athens.
On the 15th, a day called the Gathering (Agyrmos), the priests (hierophantes, those who show the sacred ones) declared the start of the rites (prorrhesis), and carried out the sacrifice (hiereía deúro, hither the victims).
The seawards initiates (halade mystai) started out in Athens on 16th with the celebrants washing themselves in the sea at Phaleron.
On the 17th, the participants began the Epidauria, a festival for Asklepios named after his main sanctuary at Epidauros. This “festival within a festival” celebrated the healer’s arrival at Athens with his daughter Hygieia, and consisted of a procession leading to the Eleusinion, during which the mystai apparently stayed at home, a great sacrifice, and an all-night feast .
The procession to Eleusis began at Kerameikos on the 18th, and from there the people walked to Eleusis, along the Sacred Way, swinging branches called bacchoi. At a certain spot along the way, they shouted obscenities in commemoration of Iambe, an old woman who, by cracking dirty jokes, had made Demeter smile as she mourned the loss of her daughter. The procession also shouted “Íakch’, O Íakche!”, possibly an epithet for Dionysus, or a deity Iacchus, son of Persephone or Demeter.
Upon reaching Eleusis, there was an all-night vigil (pannychis) perhaps commemorating Demeter’s search for Persephone. At some point, initiates had a special drink (kykeon), of barley and pennyroyal, which has led to speculation about its chemicals perhaps having psychotropic effects.
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