In the early 1880s, Lepsina (as Eleusis was known at the time) was an insignificant town on the edge of the Thriasian Plain. A foreign visitor described its residences as “outdated” and barely distinguishable from peasant huts. Few buildings, mostly holiday villas near the beach, stood out somewhat with their decent design and their size. In the following decades, however, the picture changed dramatically. The establishment of heavy industries and the development of the rail and road network brought significant wealth to Eleusis and enabled affluent middle-class urbanites to set up home here. The new residents demanded decent (or even imposing) homes, so within fifty years (1880-1930) the neighborhoods around the archaeological site were filled with neoclassical mansions to accommodate their needs.
The house of Demestichas
The most remarkable extant neoclassical buildings are located near the archaeological site and the harbor. The house of Demestichas is a typical example of the dwellings of the wealthy bourgeoisie of Eleusis at the beginning of the 20th century. It is a compact building with neoclassical elements that dominates the beginning of Pagkalou street. Its design is relatively plain, except for the main entrance on Ionos Dragoumi street where a series of pillars support a balcony with alternating small pillars and railing on the first floor. A band of inlaid ceramic lozenges animates the building’s façade.
The house was the residence of Georgios Demestichas (or Domestichos), a descendant of the well-known local family of Hadjimeletis and director of the political office of general Theodoros Pangalos. Demestichas married the general’s daughter, Amalia, a woman with a keen intellect and a passion for social gatherings. During the 1930s the couple turned their home into the intellectual hub of Eleusis. Every Thursday afternoon they offered tea to distinguished guests and notable local young people, while dinner included plenty of fresh fish from the neighboring tavern of Spyros Gkiokas.
Among the eminent guests who frequented the house was Angelos Sikelianos (a poet with particular emotional and ideological ties to Eleusis), who would often depart by boat from the small harbour of Eleusis for the Phaneromene monastery on Salamis. Another regular guest was Orestis Laskos, a poet and film director who was born in Eleusis. Laskos wrote a poem inspired by the evenings in the house of Demestichas. It is called “The hangar of the Eleusis club” and reveals several details about these gatherings: the old vinyl records, the specific seating arrangements for the visitors, the debates, the “gloomy looks” of those who gazed at the ceiling, and the “abrupt goodnight” at exactly ten o’ clock in the evening, when everyone “as in agreement” stood and departed “hunched into the night”.
It should be noted that the house also served as the residence of Theodoros Pangalos for a few months from 1920 to 1922; some of the discussions on whether to prosecute the Six after the Asia Minor Catastrophe probably took place here.
The Pangalos residence
Just a few city blocks further up the street is the Pangalos residence. The house was built in the first half of the 19th century by Ioannis Hadjimeletis, a leading figure of the Greek War of Independence in the wider region of Eleusis. The residence served as a meeting point for the captains of the Greek camp (including Georgios Karaiskakis), which was located near the archaeological site during the siege of Athens by Reşid Mehmed Pasha in 1826-1827.
After the revolution, the house first passed to Meletis Hadjimeletis (son of Ioannis) who bequeathed it to his son, Ioannis. He sold it to the doctor and MP for Attica and Boeotia Dimitrios Pangalos, who finally gave it to Theodoros.
The house is a typical early neoclassical two-story residence. Initially, it only had a ground floor, but then another floor was added, accessible from an external staircase. It is perhaps the most typical example of Eleusis’ urban residences during the town’s heyday. It occupies the center of a large walled plot full of shrubs and tall trees (even though today the garden is in a state of utter neglect). Other than the main residence, the garden also contains a bust of general Pangalos and a windmill.
The Morphopoulos mansion
The mansion of Morphopoulos is also located in a large plot of land with tall trees and auxiliary buildings. Vassilis Morphopoulos was a doctor from Kriekuki (modern-day Erythres), a small town on the eastern slopes of Mount Cithaeron. At the end of the 19th century, he married the granddaughter of an Eleusinian and built his residence on the site of his father-in-law’s caravanserai. There is strong evidence that the house was designed by the celebrated architect Anastasios Metaxas, who reformed the Panathenaic Stadium, the Benaki Museum and the Presidential Palace in Athens.
It is an exquisite example of neoclassical architecture with many exterior decorative elements, a four-sided roof, and antefixes. But the real beauty of the building lies hidden inside. Morphopoulos is said to have invited Italian craftsmen, who executed exceptional colorful ceiling paintings that include birds, plants, and complicated geometric designs.