Elefsina, a mystery along a civilization

A new future for the European Capital of Culture in 2023. 

Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) During the three days of its long-awaited official re-consecration in early February 2023, Elefsina awakens under a thin, icy blanket of snow. An exceptional event for a likewise, exceptional city. Sitting on the dock of the bay, waiting with the artistic director Michail Marmarinos for a technical confirmation –  that will not come – on the possibility of leaving by ship from Piraeus and embarking on the extraordinary path through the Sacred Sea Route, Elefsina seems to show all her stubborn obstinacy and her mysterious indomitability.

The birthplace and homeland of the playwright Aeschylus loved and quoted by Virginia Woolf in her Early Journals, and cradle of Western civilization, is among the smallest, in density and population, to be part of the increasingly expanded nucleus of the European Capitals of Culture. The seaside resort of the Attica region, not far from Athens, on its way to the west, launches itself into its most important challenge: to give new impetus and vitality to its inhabitants through new wide-ranging projects, and a very rich cultural program, as a result of a huge collaborative, and spread widely effort. 

Mistery of Transition, the main event, courtesy Haris Karoutsos, 2023

A historical, pivotal gathering

Etymologically born and raised for gathering, as its name states, and as mythology and history have shown over the centuries and throughout human, architectural, and political stratifications, Elefsina equally shows her toughness and ability for transformation and pivot. Unable to leave for the boat trip, we sit in the core of the ancient city, around the magnificent archaeological remains, jealously protected by affectionate wandering animals; as an ancient and traditional “aoidos”, Marmarinos begins to reveal the extraordinary virtues of the city, destined and obstinate to resume its place as an essential cultural navel, in its function of support and trampoline for the capital, after decades of recession and suffering, which still indisputably mark the global scenario of a resilient nation.

Elefsinian Movement, courtesy John Stathis, 2023

Enthusiasm and desire for redemption are mixed with fear of gentrification and loss of identity and folklore, in a world that seems increasingly flattened. But, at the same time, the unconditional trust in the possibilities of partnerships and networking, in the power of artistic exchanges, and knowledge transmission, gives new life and breadth to Elefsina for its present and future multifaceted projects. 

Starting from the apparently dichotomic, but interconnected, revaluation of industrial sites, a most common and typical hallmark of “new” European Capitals of culture, as Esch-sur-Alzette for instance. Particularly, in the revalorization of the Old Mill Factory, and the IRIS industrial complex, in an intimate connection with the ancient segment of the city. If, on one side, Elefsina is remembered and reminiscent of the Mysteries and for its millenary, tangible and intangible cultural heritage, on the other, is the protagonist and witness of much more recent history. 

A recent saga that evolved through the late nineteenth-century revolution, between the two wars and in the post-industrialization era, as it is shown in the municipal building of the Old Town Hall, now exploited as a Raw Museum for modern storytelling, which embraces the city’s oxymoronic contemporary past. 

Merely and most importantly, Elefsina shows its intimate connection with the new geographic navel of European modernity, by consecrating an exhibition – open until 23 April 2023 – on Melina Mercouri (1920-1994). Celebrated by most for her beautiful, honey hair and her bold laugh in the films of Jules Dassin, Mercouri still remains in the heart of Greek people and the European community for her political militancy, for being the goddess and godmother of the Capitals of culture. A moving circle’s closure, which started with the first appointment in Athens in 1980, and whose legacy continues with Elefsina in 2023. 

More info on the current and further program of Elefsina European Capital of Culture on the official website: https://2023eleusis.eu/en/

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