The “2023 Eleusis European Capital of Culture” program kicks off with a weekend of special opening events, at the coastal front of Elefsina, west Attica, on Saturday and sunday, February 4-5, 2023.
The opening events will he held throughout the weekend with a program of exhibitions, concerts, DJ parties and side events across the town of Elefsina.
Background: Τhe Eleusinian Mysteries
The city of Elefsina will always be known for the Eleusinian Mysteries – the most secretive religious rites in ancient Greece, celebrated annually for almost two millennia (1600 BC – 400 AD). Key figures of Antiquity such as Pythagoras, Plato, Aristophanes, and Cicero who participated in the Mysteries described them as the greatest experience of their lives. Anyone who would reveal specific details of the initiation ceremony could be punished by death. Hence, to this day, the exact nature of the events – which consisted of a pilgrimage from Athens to Elefsina and a secret initiation rite – is shrouded in mystery. During the ceremony, the initiates would drink kykeon, a sacred barley-based drink that contained the fungus ergot, often causing hallucinatory effects.
The festivities took place to commemorate the return of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of agriculture and fertility, after she was abducted by Hades. Vowing to avenge her daughter’s abduction, Demeter rendered the earth sterile, causing drought and famine. As a compromise, Persephone would spend several months with Hades in the underworld – symbolizing the dark, fruitless winter months – and the rest of the year with her mother on Mount Olympus.
Past and Present
Freely borrowing elements from the Eleusinian Mysteries, the group exhibition Visions from the Underworld, curated by The Agprognostic Temple, takes the myth and the secret cult around it as a starting point and way of navigating between parallel universes. It seeks to show the Mysteries’ current-day relevance while opening them up to different voices in a language for the 21st century. The exhibition is set within an architectural construction of a hypercube that references the nearby archaeological site and positions itself between a ruin that could be situated millennia ago or in an indefinable post-apocalyptic future. Once inside, the visitor is invited to embark on a journey of discovery – a symbolic descent to the underworld and back. Throughout the ruins of this Temple, different artworks are dispersed, echoing some of the themes and motives from the Mysteries – the cycle of death and rebirth, fertility and mortality, initiation rites and rituals, hallucinations and visions – as well as a general penchant for the occult, obscure and psychedelic.
Program February 4-5, 2023
The Opening Ceremony is inspired by the history and the mythology of the city: the Processions and the link between the Upper World and the Underworld. On the afternoon of Saturday 4 February, four Processions of people arrive at the city of Elefsina from sea and land: TimeCircus, the art collective from Belgium, having travelled on foot 3,000 km all over Europe on a Landship, in the longest pilgrimage procession in the history of Elefsina; the Elefsinian Movement, 14 local associations comprising the cultural mosaic of the city, bringing music and dance to its streets, under the artistic direction of Jenny Argyriou and Vasilis Gerodimos; dozens of Hemerodromes, starting from the archaeological site of Kerameikos in Athens, walk the 21 kilometres of the Sacred Way. The inaugural journey of the “Sacred” Sea Route, a unique cultural experience at sea, sails through seven historic municipalities, connecting Piraeus and Elefsina for the first time in modern history, accompanied by the sounds of beloved top Greek composers, as sung inimitably by Melina Mercouri and adapted by Nikos Bitzenis. The Nymphs appear unexpectedly throughout the city streets, under the choreographic direction of Konstantinos Rigos and the costume design of Olga Karaververi.
The Processions traverse the city, passing from the Archaeological Site and the pedestrianised Nikolaidou Street, to end up at the seafront of the Old Oil Mill Factory, where residents and visitors − the fifth informal procession − will give them a special welcome.
The first phase of the Opening Ceremony is followed by a spectacular event along the seafront at 19:00, titled Mysteries of Transition, where the grand stage will be the sea itself. Narration by Kostas Nizamis, an “astronaut” travelling to the depths of Elefsina, original music by Angelos Triantafyllou and lighting by Petko Tanch, framed by CHÓRES by Marina Satti, all culminate in the emergence of a bright mythical entity from the water in a spirit of optimism.
The action continues right after, with the fifth − informal − procession of people moving along the seafront to the east. A Cultural Route with 21 different activities incorporates particular sites such as rooftops, courtyards, a car repair shop, tavernas, balconies, windows and penthouses, where visitors may explore experimental projects, choreographies, sound installations, Pontian lyre recitals, and seafood treats; a unique cultural experience.
Then, one of the most influential and innovative groups of contemporary electronic sound in Greece, Stereo Nova (Konstantinos Vita and Michalis Delta), return to the heart of West Attica for a unique and iconic reunion especially for the Opening Ceremony. The Old IRIS Factory opens its gates to the public for the first time, welcoming the cult band of the ‘90s that inspired a whole generation with pioneering music and poetic lyrics.
The night concludes with an invitation to a dance in Warehouse 1 of the Old Oil Mill Factory, a party with music chosen exclusively by women DJs from Elefsina and other European Capitals of Culture. Disco, house and techno in an industrial landscape, with a dynamite line-up featuring Mini Zucchini (Timișoara, Romania), ENIKŐ (Veszprém, Hungary), MOTERIS (Kaunas, Lithuania), Fo aka Fofi Tsesmeli (Elefsina, Greece), and Amii Watson (Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg).
The Opening Ceremony ends on Sunday 5 February, when the whole city becomes an open-air stage: openings of two iconic exhibitions, Mystery 17 Melina, as well as Mystery 44 7 Columns by globally renowned multitalented artist and composer Heiner Goebbels in the Warehouses of the Old Oil Mill Factory, lighting and video installations such as Mystery 32 Faces by American photographer and visual artist Lina Bertucci in the Elefsina Old Town Hall, performances such as Mystery 108 KAMARES by director and performer Euripides Laskaridis in the Leonidas Kanellopoulos Cultural Centre, art exhibitions such as Mystery 177 Visions from the Underworld in the X-Bowling Art Center, the exhibition-installation Inventory II, Vasilis Gerodimos − Jenny Argyriou, peculiar tours such as Mystery 20 Narrative Archaeology in the archaeological site of Elefsina, as well as time to wander freely through the city, its museums, its restaurants and its market.
The Nymphs appear once more in the city streets, the Municipal Philharmonic Orchestra fills the alleys with melodies, and a sailboat and numerous small white boats from the Elefsina Nautical Sports Club create a special formation titled “Celebrating the Light,” concluding the first part of a twin celebration, to be completed with the Closing Ceremony of the European Capital of Culture in November 2023.
***KTG understands that the majority of events are free of charge, except some for which tickets are required.
See the two-day programme in detail here in English.
By becoming the European Capital of Culture, Elefsina is joining an ECoC family of over 70 European cities that have held the title so far.
Elefsina is the fourth European Capital of Culture hosted in Greece, after Athens (1985), Thessaloniki (1997), and Patras (2006).
For the full program of events (in English) click here