IERA ODOS RUNS THROUGH ELEONAS OF ATHENS: WHERE THE ANCIENT MEETS THE SACREDWHERE SACRED
It was the route from the City of Athens to Eleusis, a connection of the ancient Athens city center with the North-West part of Attica. It was the main line of transportation between Athens and the Peloponnese. Its name was “Iera Odos” (meaning the “Sacred Way”) as it was leading to Eleusis where rites were held for the cult of Demeter and Persephone (known as the “Elefsinia Mystiria” i.e. Eleusinian Mysteries) at the local sanctuary; the said rites were possibly the most famous of secret kind in Ancient Greece.
It was a major road in antiquity, running from the main City gate of Athens, the ancient Dipylon (meaning the Double Gate because of a nearby gate named “Iera Pyli” – meaning Sacred Gate) at the Keramikos area to the ancient city of Eleusis via Eleonas – the famous Athens Olive Grove; Dimitris Kampouroglou, the famous scholar, historian and lawyer mentions in its works in 1920 that Eleonas, despite its extensive coverage of the Attiki territory it is reportedly much smaller in size compared to one century before: many of its trees were destroyed in various areas – except that run by the Iera Odos.
The road’s sanctity – hence its name, is to be attributed to these two factors: the fact that it was used for the march towards Eleusis and the fact that it was running through a sacred area in general. In ancient Greece whatever relevant to olive trees and olive oil was considered somewhat sacred. It was a common good for every Athenian not only as a nutritional supplement but also as a source of energy for lighting their homes (butting it into their oil lamps). What’s more, its use for these purposes was considered a true blessing as it was actually a product from the sacred olive tree of Athena (gifted to the City of Athens by the Goddess herself in her rivalry with Poseidon for the naming of the city) and an opportunity of connection between mankind and the Gods. It is worth noting that the olive tree was a widely acknowledged symbol of wisdom, peace, serenity, and civilization. Not surprisingly therefore, the preservation of olive trees and the olive grove as a whole in Athens, was protected by law and any disputes or judicial rivalries for this reason were judged by the supreme Court (Arios Pagos). The territory belonged to the citizens but not withstanding, all olive trees were owned by the State.
Besides the true reasons that justified the road’s name however, it was a common practice in antiquity for every road that was leading to a district sanctuary to be called sacred. The road run for 22 kilometers at the county of Lakiadon and it was scattered with sanctuaries and temples of various sizes, artifact laboratories and cemeteries at both its sides. The area was run by the river Kifissos which boosted the herbage in the surroundings, thereby creating beautiful and stunning landscapes. High networth individuals in the Greek and Roman times had their country houses in the area, which also explains the great number of tombstones at various points along the route.
Various parts of Iera Odos were known as meeting points of pilgrims travelling to Eleusis on foot and were making non-permanent stops for rituals and resting.
Athens is here, calling you.