The social, industrial, and environmental history of Eleusis is rich, expansive, and obscure. With the possible exception of the sanctuary of Demeter, tourists may never perceive the wealth of stories waiting to be discovered in the small workshops, derelict industrial buildings, family-owned shops, Roman ruins, medieval churches, and the countryside of Eleusis. In an effort to promote the region’s cultural heritage and to improve the overall tourist experience, Pros-Eleusis contemplates an ecomuseum. This is an inclusive approach centred on the collaboration between institutional agencies and residents that has proven remarkably successful at invigorating local societies and increasing a site’s exposure and acceptance by visitors.
What is an ecomuseum?
But what exactly is an ecomuseum? The term was first coined by the French archaeologist and museologist Hugues de Varine, in the early 1970s. Back then, the word could apply to an amateurish museum, a national park or a centre for industrial heritage. The first successful ecomuseums seem to have been created in France when the museologist Georges Henri Rivière drew inspiration from the Scandinavian open-air museums to establish regional Nature Parks. His approach defined the most salient features of an ecomuseum. It was a collaborative effort between state agencies and local communities, while the artefacts were not moved to an artificial site, but were restored in situ. Finally, Rivière was adamant that the museum would not be limited to the study of cultural objects or buildings, but would also include an exploration of the relations between humanity and the environment.
The people’s museum
An ecomuseum is not a building full of folk objects. It is not a traditional festival or a mythicized presentation of a romantic past. It is not an institution designed by a central agency to promote tourist development or a nationalist agenda. It is a holistic approach to the past, present, and future of an area. The people living there are actively involved in planning, establishing, and running the project. This does not mean that an ecomuseum is an amateur’s playground. It requires the fruitful collaboration of professional researchers and enthusiastic volunteers, who will combine academic expertise with empirical knowledge to highlight the cultural heritage of a territory. The local population must have a meaningful say in the museum’s development, and the final product must reflect their desire to examine and explain their own history.
Industry vs environment
The study of the interaction between humans and the natural environment is a guiding principle of a successful ecomuseum. At first it may seem odd to associate ecology and industry, especially in a region like Eleusis, where the environment has suffered significant degradation as a result of industrial growth in the postwar period. It is, therefore, imperative to keep in mind that an ecomuseum is an ambitious project to truly encompass and understand the social, cultural, and economic life of a region in relation to the possibilities and limitations imposed by the landscape and nature.
Where does Eleusis end?
An ecomuseum, unlike traditional institutions, does not require a main building to safeguard a collection of artefacts. It may have particular buildings as focal points, especially in a region like Eleusis, where social and cultural history is intimately associated with the development of various heavy industries. As long as these edifices shape the cultural personality and social essence of the population they will have a role to play in the ecomuseum. And this brings us to another crucial point. Where does Eleusis end? The residential and commercial urban core is delimited by the industrial zone, but an administrative boundary cannot serve as the sole basis for the ecomuseum. Eleusis encompasses a broad region of cultural, economic, and environmental unity that goes beyond the town proper and may, in fact, include the Thriasian Plain in its entirety. The ecomuseum of Eleusis will cover an intricate network of structures, facilities, and natural landmarks to tell the story of a region shaped and united by the forces of nature and its residents.