Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities

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The term Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities refers to a specific area of the Valley of the Temples, located near Gate V. Here are the remains of buildings of different periods and styles, but all have in common the sacred function they performed. They are small and large religious buildings, shrines and altars, built roughly between the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. and dedicated mainly to the deities Demeter and Kore.

The Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities: the origins of the name

The adjective “chthonic” refers to earlier cults of subterranean deities or personifications of seismic or volcanic forces. These were usually female deities associated with the fertility cult of the earth. The word “chthonic” comes from a term used by the Greek writer Ferecides of Syrus to refer to one of the first cosmic deities who would later create the world along with Zeus and Kronos. The most common chthonic deities among the Greeks were Hades, the god of the underworld, Demeter, and Persephone, also called Kore. All three are linked by one of the most famous myths in Greek mythology: that of Persephone and Hades.

The myth of Demeter and Persephone

In Greek mythology, Hades is said to have kidnapped Persephone, taken her to the underworld, and then married her against her will. Enraged, Demeter, Persephone’s mother and goddess of nature and harvest, caused a long, cold winter to fall on Earth. Through the intervention of Zeus, an agreement was reached. Persephone would spend four months on earth with her mother and eight months in the afterlife with her husband. This myth served to explain the alternation of the seasons. In fact, summer corresponds to Persephone’s stay on earth, which was celebrated by her mother Demeter with the rebirth of nature. According to one of the many versions of this myth, the abduction took place in Sicily, near Lake Pergusa. In this area there are many testimonies of the cult of Demeter, who later became Ceres with the Romans. Several shrines dedicated to the goddess have been found in the archaeological area of Morgantina, while in Enna there is the so-called Fortress of Ceres.

The area of the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities

The so-called Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities is actually an area that includes a number of buildings from different eras and styles, united by the fact that they have a sacred function. This area of the Valley of the Temples is located near Gate V and is divided into four different sections. The first belongs to the Temple of Zeus, while the other three refer to the archaic shrines of the chthonic (or earth) deities. The latter are a group of small and large religious buildings, shrines and altars built roughly between the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. and dedicated mainly to the deities Demeter and Kore. The original core consists of two archaic temenoi, i.e. sacred precincts, which also contain altars with both rectangular and circular layouts. Over the centuries, these altars were joined by several small temples, also equipped with pronaos and naos. In the area further south of the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities, there is the so-called Temple of the Dioscuri.

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