Demeter, the “universal mother” of the hymns, the “blessed” and “divine”, was one of the greatest goddesses of the ancient Greek pantheon. She was the granddaughter of Gaia, the daughter of Kronos and Rhea and the sister of Zeus, Poseidon, Plouton, Hera and Hestia. As her name reveals («Demeter» comes from the Doric form “Ge” which means “Earth” and “Meter” which means “Mother”), Demeter was the goddess of cultivation and protectress of agriculture, the goddess of fertility and vegetation, being worshipped especially in rural lands: the farmers offered sacrifices to “proerosia” (before ploughing) Demeter, to “Drepaneforos” (sickle carrier) Demeter at harvest, to “Aloas” (thrashing) Demeter and, to “Chloe” (verdure) Demeter at spring time.
The cult of Demeter and her daughter Persephone (Kore) is connected, primarily, with mystic rites, the so-called Eleusinian Mysteries. These were ritual actions which focused on the “catharsis” (purification) and the exaltation of the human being. In the myth of Demeter and Kore, the imagination acquires a functional hypostasis, blended with the up-to-date experiential knowledge of things of the initiated. The initiated are transformed into beings, with an introspective psyche, yearning for a larger life and preparing for their life after death.
Apart from the Eleusinian Mysteries, the greatest festival, in honor of Demeter, were the “Thesmophoria”, on “Pyanepsion” month (middle of September to middle of October), which was held during the early sowing time. The festival was celebrated throughout Greece and was restricted to the participation of married women only. During the Thesmophoria, women abstained from sex, fasted and exchanged immodest jokes, like Baubo (Iambe), who made Demeter laugh when, in grief, she was looking for her daughter. The Thesmophoria concluded with the “Kalligeneia”, a happy feast of the participants.
Demeter’s symbols were the crane, the ear wheat, the narcissus flower, the myrtle and the crocus. The bees were her priestesses and during the sacrificial rites, bulls and honey were offered. Demeter is usually represented holding an ear of wheat and a torch.
The Latin name of Demeter was Ceres: it is from her Latin name that the word “cereals” derives (“demetriaka”, in Greek).

1. The sanctuary of Demeter at Dion, below Olympos mountain (Macedonia)
DionDemeter’s sanctuary at Dion is the oldest, up-to-date, known in Macedonia. It is located outside the walls of the city, very close to the gate, by the central road. Two twin temples of the sanctuary have been brought to light, together with several finds, among which a marble head of Demeter, dated from the end of the 4th century BC and a dedicatory inscription to the goddess. These twin temples were built in order to replace two older archaic temples (6th century BC), whose foundations are just behind them.
The older archaic temples had the form of a “megaron”, made of mud brick and stones. Wooden benches, in the interior, were used for the placement of the various dedications of the faithful.
The 4th century twin temples were doric in style and housed the cult statues whose bases are still in situ. Demeter’s marble head was found on one of these bases. The altars are located in front of the temples, on the eastern side. These temples, being the focal point of the sanctuary, were framed with smaller single-chamber cult structures (“oikos”), housing cult statues and stone offering tables for the first annual crops.
2. Temple of Demeter at Lepreon of Elis (Peloponnese)
KorinthiaLepreon was an important ancient city of the region of Elis which played a major role in controlling ancient roads and passages, leading to Messenia and Arcadia. The city was spread between the rock of its acropolis, north of the modern village and the hill, where the Neolithic settlement was first built. The temple of Demeter was built in the classical age, within the acropolis of Lepreon.
The temple is built on a terrace, on the lower part of the acropolis, offering views towards the Ionian Sea, the Valley of Neda River and the temple of Epicurius Apollo, at Vassae. It is described by Pausanias, as a mud brick structure, without any cult statue inside it.
It is a doric “peripteral” (with a surrounding colonnade) temple, with 6 x 11 columns. It has a “pronaos” (front chamber) with columns in antis, a cella without inner colonnade and no “opisthodomos” (back chamber). It is built of shelly stone, which was used for the fortification wall, as well. Parts of the foundations of the colonnade and the cella, together with many architectural fragments (drums, capitals of columns, simae) are in situ. Traces of white coating can be seen on the fragments of the columns. Based on its architectural elements and styles, the temple is dated from the early 4th century BC. It is built over an older one, whose traces can be seen in the interior.
The altar has been located 7 meters away from the temple façade. It is a rectangular shelly stone structure (5 x 1,5 meters).
3. Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, at Eleusis (Attica)
EleusisAncient Eleusis was an important “demos” (municipality) of the city-state of Athens. It was located between two valleys, called “Thriasion” and “Rarion” and the Eleusinian bay at the Saronic Gulf, at a distance of 20 kilometers away from the center of ancient Athens. The famous Sacred Road (Iera Odhos) connected the Sacred Gate of Athens with the entrance of the Eleusinian sanctuary. The whole course of the Sacred Road was followed, on foot, by the initiates, during the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The sanctuary is located at the eastern part of Eleusis, near the ancient harbor: a sanctuary of Panhellenic fame, dedicated to the cult of Demeter, which was introduced in the Mycenaean age (1409 BC). According to the tradition, Demeter, while in search of her kidnapped daughter, whom the god of Hades, Plouton, had taken into his underworld realm, reached Eleusis. There, she received a great hospitality by king Keleos. After the recognition of her divinity, Demeter taught the art of cultivation to the locals and ordered a temple to be built on a specific outcrop of the hill, which she indicated: today, this spot is within the ruins of the “Telesterion”. Ever since, the presence of the goddess was connected with Eleusis and the cultivation of the earth. The rites, in her honor, had a mystic character and were open only to the initiates. The penalty of revealing the divine secrets was death. Due to this, today, we know very little of the re-enactments or the process of initiation.
The sanctuary was in use for over one thousand years, starting from the Mycenaean age, until its destruction by the Visigoths of Alarichus, in 395 AD.
The focal point of the sanctuary was the central chamber (Telesterion) which was dedicated to Demeter, as per her indication. The Telesterion underwent many restorations and ended as a large square chamber, with a roof supported by inner columns, made of light blue Eleusinian limestone. The initial cult chamber was, at all times, incorporated in every new restoration of the Telesterion. About 9 different restoration phases took place until the 2nd century AD, starting with the Peisistrateian (6th century BC) enlargement of the cult chamber (early Telesterion) and the construction of a fortification wall. Another important restoration took place after the Persian Wars (5th century BC) in the years of Kimon, followed by that of Pericles, when the Telesterion was very much enlarged.
In the 4th century BC, a monumental, marble entrance (“prostoon”) was added on the eastern façade of the Telesterion. The acropolis, on the west, was fortified as well, making Eleusis one of the most important and powerful fortresses of the city-state of Athens. It was here, among other fortresses, where the young Athenian men (“epheboi”) would do their army service for two years.
During the roman times, Eleusis –just like Athens- received the favour of Rome, since many of its emperors had been initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Romans took care of the whole area, thus many ruins survive, today, from that age.
4. Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, at ancient Corinth (Peloponnese)
KorinthiaThe sanctuary of Demeter and Kore was a major cult center of ancient Corinth and one of the largest in Greece. It is located south of the ancient city center, at the foot of the huge rock of Acrocorinthos, the citadel of the ancient city.
At its initial phase of construction (either archaic or classical), the sanctuary was crossed by a staircase which led to several dining rooms. The central cult area was composed of a court with a small temple (“oikos”) and a leveled terrace bearing the altar, for the sacrifices. On a later phase (end of the 4th century BC), the sanctuary is rearranged: access became possible through a doric “propylon” (columned entrance), the temple was transferred to an outcropping of a rock, the area of the old temple was transformed into a stoa, while a small theater, of a capacity of 100 people, was built.
The sanctuary survived until the total destruction of Corinth, in 146 BC, by the troops of the Roman general Mommius. Only after the establishment of the roman colony, in the 1st century BC, the sanctuary is re-used: during the roman restorations, the dining rooms and the staircase were covered, the propylon was enlarged and 3 small ionic temples were built. A mosaic floor was found in the central temple. One of the dining rooms, which ended up below the propylon, was converted into a roman cult chamber where “katadesmoi” (written curses) were placed. The sanctuary was abandoned in the end of the 4th century AD and, gradually, from the 6th century onwards, a Christian cemetery occupied a great part of it.
5. Sanctuary of Apollo and Demeter at Gyroula of Sangri on Naxos (Cyclades)
GyroulaNaxosA rural, open-air, cult of earth deities started to be practiced in the 8th century BC, on a mound overlooking a fertile valley. Today, this area is called “Gyroulas”, located south of Sangri village. On the very spot of this open-air cult, a monumental marble temple was erected, later in the late 6th century BC.
The sanctuary was dedicated to god Apollo, goddess Demeter and Kore and the cult focused on their “chthonian” (earthen) characteristics.
The cult of chthonian deities who are related to fertility and the growth of vegetation can be explained from the creation of such a sanctuary, in the midst of a farming land. The sanctuary became a great center of worship and major factor of social cohesion, in the whole area.
The marble temple represents an important step in the evolution of Greek architecture. During the early Christian era (5th -6th century AD), the temple was converted into a basilica. Until the 8th century AD, when the area was abandoned, various workshops were developed around the basilica, for the production of olive oil, wine and ceramics. Later, the worship was continued in a small one-chamber chapel, dedicated to Saint John the Theologian, erected under the Holy Bema of the ruined basilica. In 1977 and due to the needs of the restoration works, the chapel was relocated, thus brought to its modern position.
6. Sanctuary of Demeter in ancient Messene (Peloponnese)
MessiniMessene was an important ancient city which was founded in 370 BC, by the Theban general Epameinondas, after his victory against the Spartans, in the battle of Leuctra. Epameinondas freed the region of Messenia and decided to build the city of free Messenians, at an area just beyond the foot of Ithome hill. Today, at a distance of 500 meters, west of Mavrommati village, one can enter the archaeological site, where the ruins of this ancient city, Messene, are located.

To the SW end of the Agora, next to the Asclepion, a sacred building has been discovered (24×24 meters). Inside the building, the foundations of a cult structure were found, dated from the 4th-3rd century BC, together with other structures, serving as annexes. A great number of terracotta votive plaques and figurines were found beneath the floor of the main building, where they had been thrown along with fragments of pottery and animal bones in hollows (“apothetes”) in the bedrock. A wide variety of subjects is depicted on them, including funerary banquets, horsemen, seated or standing female or male figures, warriors, and three frontal female figures.
Pausanias (4.31.10) mentions “a holy sanctuary of Demeter” and “statues of the Dioskouroi in Messene” which should be located on this very spot, according to his descriptions.
The sanctuary of Demeter is also mentioned on a “construction inscription” for buildings to be repaired. This inscription was found in the Sebasteion and dates from the years of Emperor Tiberius.

7. Sanctuary of Demeter, in the Demetra village of Arcadian Gortynia (Peloponnese)
GortyniaSOSTOThe village called “Demetra” or “Divritsa” (land of many waters) is located in the region of Gortynia, in Arcadia, on a height of 660 meters, between the villages of Kondovazaina and Vachlia. It is surrounded by the hill of Prophet Elias, on the north and Dariza Mountain, on the south. The village, called Demetra, owes its name to the ancient sanctuary of Demeter which was built there, in which the goddess was worshipped as Demeter “Eleusinian” or “Alousia”.
Demetra is a “revelation” village of mountainous Arcadia, beautifully situated by Ladon River. Demeter had passed from there, while in search for her daughter. During Pausanias’ days (2nd century AD), the sanctuary was in a very good state of preservation, while, today, just a few fragments are surviving.
8. Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Erochos of Fokis (Parnassus)
FokidaToday, on the northern slopes of Parnassus Mountain, the modern village of Polydrosos, offering views towards the valley of the Boeotian Kephisos River, occupies the area of the ancient city of Lilaia.
In the classical years and after the Persian Wars (5th century BC), Lilaia thrives and due to the great increase of its population, a near-by hill, next to the springs of the city, is occupied for a newly built suburb, given the poetic name “Erochos”.
The rural sanctuary of Demeter is built, here, in Erochos, right away (5th century BC).
The sanctuary was discovered in 1928, when a dedicatory stele was found, with the inscription ΜΝΑΣΙΚΛΕΣ ΔΑΜΑΤΡΙ ΚΑΙ ΚΟΡΑΙ (MNESIKLES TO DEMETER AND KORE), dated from the 4th century BC.
The sanctuary consists of an exterior, 80-meter wall and an inner, shorter 45-meter one. Between the two walls, there many rooms where lots of dedications have been found: clay figurines of the 5th century BC, coins of various cities from the 4th century BC, jewelry and other. The roof was covered by tiles constructed in a potter’s workshop of Lilaia, with the incision: ΛΙΛΑΙΕΩΝ (LILAION). Added to this, another find indicated the character of the cult in the sanctuary. It is a bronze vessel, bearing the inscription of the 5th century BC: ΔΑΜΑΤΡΙ ΕΝ ΕΡΩΧΟΙ (TO DEMETER IN EROCHOS).
The sanctuary was destroyed in the end of the 4th century BC and was reused, for a while, until its final destruction in the late Hellenistic age. No roman traces have been found during the excavations.
Today, all the finds from the sanctuary are displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Amphissa.
9. Sanctuary of Demeter on the acropolis of ancient Kythnos (Cyclades)
KythnosIn the middle of the west coast of the island, on the Vryokastron peninsula, the ancient city of Kythnos is located. On the highest peak of the peninsula, the ruins of a sanctuary of a female deity have been observed. The area has not been excavated yet.
The large number of finds, found on the surface, especially on the NE slope of the acropolis, led us to the certainty that they belong to a sanctuary dedicated to Demeter. Additionally, lots of architectural fragments are scattered around, belonging to two rectangular temple-like structures, two altars and two other buildings.
10. Sanctuary of Demeter “Chamyne” in ancient Olympia (Peloponnese)
OlympiaDemeter “Chamyne” (sitted on the ground) is an old chthonian goddess. Her sanctuary has been identified with the ruins on the asphalt road crossing the archaeological site of Olympia. It is dated from the 6th-5th century BC and was tightly connected with the cult practiced in Olympia.
Clay and bronze vases, bearing inscriptions are among the finds. The most interesting find, which identified the sanctuary with the cult of Demeter, is a figurine with an inscription mentioning Demeter, Kore and the king of the underworld, Ades. Pausanias mentions the existence of this sanctuary.
One theory supports that the Olympic Games were initially based on the fertility of the earth and vegetation, characteristics of Demeter Chamyne. The goddess was definitely related to the games, since the only female presence, at the stadium, was the priestess of Demeter “Chamyne”, who was sitted next to the stone altar, on the side of the stadium. It is possible that the races, in the stadium, were held in her honor.
It should be noted that during the roman times, Regilla, the wife of Herodes Atticus had this title.

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