In antiquity, Elefsína was one of the 5 sacred cities (the others were Athens, Olympía, Délfoi and Dílos) and a most important religious centre, where the worship of goddess Dímitra (Ceres) and her daughter Persefóni was practiced. Within the temple of goddess Dímitra, inside the city, the renowned Elefsínian Mysteries were performed, a mystical 9-day ceremony for which we know very few, as the participants were sworn to secrecy by divine mandate.
The Elefsínian Mysteries was an annual celebration and a mystical feast, to honor the goddess Dímitra and daughter Persefóni. It was the most sacred and most respected of all the celebrations in ancient Greece. All Hellenes were allowed to take place, irrespective of age, gender, financial and social status, as long as they would qualify during the first stages of the rites. Excluded were only those who could not speak the Hellenic language or had committed a crime.
The temple of Elefsína was built in the largest valley of Attikí, the Thryásio Pedío, during probably the Mycenean times (1600 – 1100 BC.). It was used for the worship of Goddesses Dímitra (Di = Gaia + mitir (mother)) and Persefóni. Both deities were linked with agriculture and the growth of seeds, especially grains, which even today are called “dimitriáka” (cereal in English, from the Latin name Ceres of the goddess).
The first name of Elefsína was Saisaría. When the Elefsínian Mysteries started, Keleós, the first Hierophant (the high Priest of the Mysteries, with lifelong service), in order to honor his father, the hero Elefsíno, gave his name to the city. According to different sources, the name Elefsína derives from the ancient verb “elefsomai” (= I am coming), which probably denotes Elefsína as the place of arrival, due to the Mysteries?
The end of the ancient Elefsína coincides with the end of the Mysteries, at the end of the 4th century AD. The last Hierophant, Nestórios, prophesized their end. Archaeologists believe that the temple of Dímitra stopped operating in 395 AD.
During the 5th century AD, Elefsína was Christian. The area suffered from piratic raids, which started in the beginning of the 7th century AD. The city lost most of its population and its wealth to plundering and war monger by Arabs, Muslims, Genovese, Normands etc. The remainder of the population gradually moved towards the inner lands, where they were protected from the raids.
In 1458, the area of Attikí falls to the Turks. In 1798 it was reported that Elefsína population numbered 200 inhabitants. After the successful wars of Independence against the Turks, Elefsína begins to prosper again. In 1850 its population was 137 families with a total of 585 people. In 1879 the population numbered 1185. Houses and roads are built. The harbour of Elefsína supports the transfer of the local goods (agricultural and livestock) to Athens and Kórinthos.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the city develops industrially. After the 2 world wars, the industrialization continued up until a few decades ago. In the years between 1980 and 2000, most of the factories closed or gave their place to smaller ones. The sites of the large industries became warehouses or remain to date inactive.