The railway station of Eleusis

The first proposal to connect Eleusis by train to Athens (and the Peloponnese) was put forward in the early 1870s. The banker Evangelos Valtatzis (1826-1889), member of the first board of directors of the “Greek Society of Metallurgy of Lavrion” and an associate of Andreas Syngros, submitted to the government the idea of a railway line that would connect Porto Rafti (in eastern Attica) with Aigio and Patras (through Athens and Corinth).

The industrial development of Eleusis depended to a large extent on the anticipated railway connection with the rest of the country. The ability to quickly and easily transport raw materials and finished products persuaded many entrepreneurs to invest in the insignificant (until then) community of Lepsina.

The trains of Trikoupis

Valtatzis failed to realize his ambitious vision, and Eleusis had to wait almost fifteen years before people heard the whistle of the first train. Infrastructure and the extension of the internal communications network were priorities for Charilaos Trikoupis. When he became Prime Minister, in 1882, the country had only one railway line that had been inaugurated in 1869 to connect Athens to Piraeus. The government of Alexandros Koumoundouros had spent considerable time and effort on the matter with meagre results. Trikoupis believed that there was no time to lose. The contract for the construction of the Peloponnese railway was signed in the summer of 1882 and work began immediately.

The black beast

The first train arrived in Eleusis in the winter of 1885. Its arrival was a major event for the small community. According to the testimony of Vangelis Liapis’ father, local teachers had told their students that the train “was walking on iron with iron legs and that it moved on its own without any horses to pull it along”. The villagers had been notified of its imminent arrival many days earlier, thanks to the town crier who proclaimed the joyous event in the streets.

The children of Eleusis anxiously awaited the arrival of a real dragon; “when we saw it coming, it was as if an earthquake had struck. And as it blew its whistle, we all gathered near our teacher’s pants. It was a black beast with large glass eyes. It released dark smoke from its head and white smoke from its nostrils and mouth … it seemed to be rabid and eager to bite, to consume us all.”

The first train

The train was adorned with acacia and pine branches (an excellent choice for a form of transport that burns coal). As soon as it pulled into the station, a group of officials dressed in black coats and black top hats disembarked, offered the locals some wine, delivered a short speech, and left for the next station.

The route was idyllic and passengers had the opportunity to enjoy many landmarks on the way to Eleusis. The train crossed a 25-meter-long iron bridge over the river Cephissus soon after leaving the station and passed the famous royal residence built by Queen Amalia. It stopped at Ano Liosia, from where the passengers, if they wanted to, could visit the famous monastery of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (the oldest women’s monastery in Attica) and the fortress of Phyle (occupied by the Athenian democratic leader Thrasybulus during his struggle against the Thirty Tyrants in 404 BCE). The train, of course, did not wait for them but continued its journey through a verdant landscape towards the plain of Eleusis and the small town.

The station coffeehouse

The railway station building soon became a reference point for Eleusis. It had a waiting area for the passengers, a ticket booth, and a warehouse, while the station master’s residence was on the first floor. The residents of Eleusis visited the coffee shop on the single-storey building right next to the station to read the newspapers that arrived from Athens and to discuss local issues.

The coffee shop was quite luxurious and clearly superior in aesthetics and comfort to the usual local coffeehouses. It soon became a favourite destination for the young people of Lepsina, who preferred to show up sporting Western-style clothing, as opposed to the traditional Arvanites garments of their fathers and grandparents. Several of the patrons (known locally as the “gentlemen of the station”) later formed the cultural club “Keleos”.

The first souvlaki

The railway station’s coffeehouse was responsible for many innovations. Initially, it served just coffee, but the owner quickly added appetizers and ouzo to the menu, while the first souvlaki in Eleusis was served here. Along with the souvlaki came the Fix beer, kept in large wooden barrels. A garden with a fountain and alleys was located behind the coffeehouse and proved very popular among young couples looking for a few private moments (especially at night).

Final departure

The railway station shares many features with all Second Class stations built at the end of the 19th century, so in 1985 it was declared a listed monument. Unfortunately, the railway line that passed through Eleusis fell into disuse in 2001, when the suburban railway started operating.

Bibliography

Αγνώστου (1927). Ελευσίς. Εμπρός (17.04.1927) [in Greek]

Μαργαρίτη, Σπυριδούλα (2017). Η βιομηχανική κληρονομιά της Ελευσίνας, Ελευσίνα: Δήμος Ελευσίνας .[in Greek]

Λιάπης, Βαγγέλης (1997). Η Ελευσίνα στα νεότερα χρόνια (συμπληρωματικά στοιχεία), Ελευσίνα. [in Greek]

Λιάπης, Βαγγέλης (2000). Συνοικίες και γειτονιές της Ελευσίνας, Ελευσίνα. [in Greek]

Συλλογικό (1977), Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους, Αθήνα: Εκδοτική Αθηνών. [in Greek]

Σφυρόερας, Βασίλειος (2005). Ιστορία της Ελευσίνας: Από τη Βυζαντινή περίοδο μέχρι σήμερα, Ελευσίνα: Δήμος Ελευσίνας. [in Greek]

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