As we drive down Hierá Hodós (the ancient Sacred Way) towards Eleusis, we may possibly not realize that we are on the oldest road of the European civilization. It is the same road often followed by the poet Sikelianos “to milk life from the outside world”, as he writes in his poem “The Sacred Way”. Since the dawn of time, when King Erechtheus of Athens defeated King Eumolpus of Eleusis, Eleusis has been supporting the operation and the growth of Athens, initially through its agricultural production and, as of the 20th century, it has been supporting the economic growth of the entire Greece through its industrial production.
Even though the city of Eleusis is very important both historically and culturally, most Greeks identify it with industrial activities and environmental pollution. Indeed, for decades, the greater area of Eleusis (the so called Thriasian Plain), has been home to the largest part of the country’s industrial activities.
However, how many of us have realized that Eleusis was for Ancient Greece what the Holy Land is today for Christianity, Jerusalem for Judaism and Mecca for Islam?
How many have visited its wonderful archaeological site and its acropolis, the sole acropolis in Attica region apart from the one in Athens? How many know that Eleusis is where the graves of the “Seven against Thebes” are located? How many know that Aeschylus and Cynaegirus were brothers and that they were born in Eleusis? How many know that the Roman Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian had been initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries?
Even when it comes to more contemporary history, how many of us know that this is where Commander in Chief Karaiskakis created the so called “Eleusis camp”, from where he commanded the siege of Athens, during the Independence War in 1821? And how many remember that the hero Vassilios Laskos wrote one of the most glorious pages in the history of the Greek Navy in World War II?
How many know that Eleusis was home to the first Greek soap industries, cement industries, ship yards and steel plants, which together form a unique group of industrial archaeology and urban development monuments?
This combination of historic and cultural tradition combined with the contemporary significant contribution to the Greek economy is what makes unique the candidacy of Eleusis for European Capital of Culture 2021.
Through Eleusis’ candidacy, we send out a global cultural message. This message is linked to three ideas.
Firstly, the idea of “euphoria”, the primary relationship between humans and nature; a relationship of life and death but also a relationship of rebirth. We follow Persephone’s descent into the Underworld as well as her ascent back on Earth, bringing back life with her. So, EUphoria (from the Greek words ευ and φέρω, meaning “well” and “carry”) because Eleusis is a worthy carrier of the real, primordial message of life throughout Europe.
Secondly, the idea of democracy and the citizen, as expressed through Greek tragedies. Aeschylos from Eleusis defines the essence of the rational political speech and highlights the triumph of human civil justice. Eleusis has been standing there for centuries, reminding the entire Western civilization these fundamental values. Even in modern times, through the events named Aischylia, Eleusis continues to share the heritage of the famous tragic poet.
Last but not least, the idea of modern challenges. Eleusis’ candidacy combines history and culture, bringing on board at the same time challenges, which are similar to the ones of Europe’s modern history. Such challenges include integration of refugees from Asia Minor, fast urbanization next to industrial activities, the balance between economic growth and environment, the concerns and efforts of workers to survive, to create, to improve their living standards, along with all workers in Greece and in Europe.
Therefore, Eleusis’ candidacy to become the European Capital of Culture for 2021, does not represent a candidacy of local nature. On the contrary, it combines all those cultural characteristics that actually make it a candidacy of Greece, Hellenism, modern Europe and global human values.
We, as active Greek citizens, support Eleusis’ candidacy to become the European Capital of Culture in 2021. And we do so because this historic city is struggling to recover its historic role and upgrade its standard of living, based not only on its long contribution to Greece’s modern economy but also on its contribution to culture.
Today, it is our turn, the turn of citizens from Athens, Piraeus, Attica, Greece and Europe in general, to reciprocate and support by all means its candidacy.
Because Greece’s EUphoria passes through Eleusis…