Eleusis was the home of the longest-lasting secret rites known to history. These Mysteries were first held starting about 1500 BCE. The exact nature of the initiations conducted here were never publicly revealed, although many thousands of people experienced them over a period of about two thousand years.
The rites apparently focused on a mystical rebirth experience. They were presided over by the appearance of Persephone, a maiden Goddess who embodied both the growth of springtime and the dark time of winter and the Underworld. Based on the story of the loss to Demeter ("the mother") of her daughter Persephone (or Kore, "the Maiden"), the story recounts how Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, taken to his kingdom in the Underworld, and forced to be his Queen. She grieved for her mother and refused to eat. Meanwhile, her angry and saddened mother neglected her duties of caring for life, including all the plants and animals. Drought covered the land. Finally Demeter consulted Zeus and was able to make a deal with Hades that Persephone would be allowed to come up and reunite with her mother. This allowed the cycle of new growth to return to the land. However, since in her hunger Persephone had succumbed to eating 4 pomegranite seeds, she would have to return to the Underworld for 4 months each year, which time corresponded to the summer drought time of the Greek world. This myth, well known to ancient Greek people, appears to have been the foundation of a ritual initiation into the mysteries of death, birth and life which made Eleusis the religious center of the Mediterranian for two millenia. A more in-depth discussion of the Eleusinian Mysteries can be read on Wikipedia here. (This will take you off-site, use your back arrow to return.)
The steps of the Telesterion, where "the seeing", or initiation, took place.
A model of the Eleusinian temple complex, which is in the Museum of Eleusis.
A plaque showing Demeter and Persephone with sheaves of grain.
Demeter instructs Triptolemus on the secrets of agriculture while Persephone gives him her blessings. Triptolemus was the son of King Celeus, who had aided Demeter in her search for her daughter, and also one of the first priests of the Eleusinian mysteries. He was said to have taught agriculture to the Greek people.
The entrance to the cave of Hades/Pluto.
A road sign showing the way to Eleusis.