The Sanctuary of Aphrodite
The sanctuary of Aphrodite in the district known as Aphaia Skaramangas is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive and recognisable monuments preserved along the Sacred Way. It is located about 1500 metres (0.9 miles) from the temple of Apollo at Daphni, at a point where the pass between Mount Korydallos and Mount Egaleo becomes narrow. The deep blue Gulf of Eleusis stretches ahead with the mountains of Salamis rising on the horizon.
The temple of Aphrodite was a small building with a nave and a pronaos. It rested on the western wall of an enclosure that formed an irregular rectangle measuring 73 x 21 metres (240 x 69 feet). The roof of the temple was made of marble. The sanctuary was accessible through a small propylon with two columns by the Sacred Way. The large stone base in front of the propylon probably belonged to an altar. The rocky face of the hill that rises to the north of the sacred precinct is riddled with niches for placing votive offerings. Most of these were marble vulvas and doves, the goddess’ holy bird. The sanctuary was full of statues and figurines of Aphrodite, alone or with Eros and Peitho (Persuasion), large vessels, and votive inscriptions.
We do not know when this open-air sanctuary of Aphrodite was founded. Still, her local adoration must have been directly related to the worship of the two goddesses of Eleusis since the procession of the initiates during the celebration of the Greater Mysteries made a stop here. In this sanctuary, Aphrodite was worshipped as the goddess of fertility and natural rebirth, as was generally the case in the rural sanctuaries of the goddess of love.
Outside the sanctuary stood a well-built building that was probably the priests' house who served the goddess. It probably doubled as a hostel for pilgrims and passersby. A well-preserved section of the Sacred Way was found in front of the priests' house. Another road, leading to the sacred lakes of Rhetoi, passed between the house and the sanctuary.
A rectangular building with polygonal masonry measuring 25 x 15 metres (82 x 49 feet) was constructed south of the ancient Sacred Way. Pausanias was quite impressed by this tower and described it as a wall of raw stones. It probably housed a guard that protected the strategic pass between the mountains and the sanctuary of Aphrodite. It became a burial ground when it lost its defensive character (at an unknown period).
Researched and written by MENTOR
Αλεξοπούλου-Μπαγιά, Πόλλυ. Ιστορία της Ελευσίνας: Από την Προϊστορική μέχρι τη Ρωμαϊκή περίοδο, Ελευσίνα: Δήμος Ελευσίνας, 2005.
Mylonas, George. Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, London: Routledge, 1962.
Papangeli, Kalliopi.Eleusis: the archaeological site and the museum, Athens: Omilos Latsi, 2002.
Papangeli, Kalliopi & Chlepa, Eleni-Anna. Transformations of the Eleusinian Landscape: Antiquities and the Modern City, Athens, 2011.
1st image: Site of the Temple of Venus at Daphne (1842) / Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation / © James Skene
2nd image: Rock of Venus at Daphne (c. 1801-1813) / British Museum / © William Gell
3rd image: View of the sanctuary of Aphrodite today / Municipality of Chaidari
4th image: Rock of Poecile. Temple of Venus, Daphne (c. 1838-1845) / Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation / James Skene
5th image: The road from Eleusis to Athens (1887) / Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation / Jakob von Falke