The Thriasian Plain
For those heading to Eleusis, the Thriasian Plain stretches to the right of the Sacred Way. It is a large and fertile plain enclosed by Mount Pateras to the west, Cithaeron to the north, and Parnitha to the northeast. The Sacred Way follows the shores of the Gulf of Eleusis and is the main road that connects the local communities with Athens. For this reason, the Dipylon Gate back in Athens was also known as “Thriasiai Pylai” (Thriasian Gates).
There are many mythological traditions regarding the plain’s name. The Thriae were winged nymphs living on Mount Parnassus. They had the power of divination and could foretell the future from the movement of pebbles (thriae) in the water. The goddess Athena wanted to learn the art of prophecy from the nymphs, but Apollo was annoyed by his half-sister's attempt to imitate him and complained to Zeus, who took his side. Athena became angry and threw the pebbles on the plain of Eleusis, which has since been called Thriasian. Another tradition derives the name from the fig leaf (thrion). It claims that Demeter gave the first fig to Phytalus, the Attic hero who hosted the goddess on the shores of the Athenian Cephissus.
The eastern part of the Thriasian Plain belonged to the deme Thria, one of the largest Attic demes in the classical period (judging by the number of deputies it sent to the Boule). Its exact location is not known with certainty. Most researchers tend to place the centre of ancient Thria in the area of Aspropyrgos. On the borders of Thria were the Rheitoi lakes with rich fish stocks. However, the locals did not have the right to eat the eels and the fish that swam there since the privilege belonged exclusively to the priests of Demeter. The sanctuaries of Aphrodite and Apollo Daphnephoros on either side of the Sacred Way marked the boundary between Thria and the deme Ermos.
The ancient Athenians and the Eleusinians considered the Thriasian Plain the cradle of agriculture and where cereals were cultivated for the first time under the guidance of Demeter. The mythological tradition reflects the plain’s unlimited productive potential. The Eleusinian Cephissus irrigated the soil and allowed farmers to grow abundant grain and produce large quantities of wine and olive oil. However, the three-thousand-year-old agricultural tradition of the Thriasian Plain ended abruptly shortly after the construction of the Eleusis military airport in the late 1930s and the post-war industrial development.
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Cosmopoulos, Michael. Bronze Age Eleusis and the Origins of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Kourouniotis, Konstantinos. Eleusis: a guide to the excavations and the museum, Athens: The Archaeological Society at Athens, 1936.
Mylonas, George. Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, London: Routledge, 1962.
Papangeli, Kalliopi. Eleusis: the archaeological site and the museum, Athens: Omilos Latsi, 2002.
1st (and last) image: The British Museum / George Cooke (1811): The Thriasian Plain from the acropolis of Eleusis.
2nd image: The British Museum / Charles Robert Cockerell (1813-1814): Mount Parnassus.
3rd image: The British Museum / Sir William Gell (1801): The Thriasian Plain and the Rheitoi Lakes.
4th image: Library of Congress / Unknown (1850-1880): The Sacred Way in Daphne.
5th image: Museo Nacional del Prado / Mariano Salvador Maella (1805-1806): Demeter or an allegory of summer.