Located on the coast of the Aegean Sea, Brauron was first settled around 3500 B.C. The settlement had varied populations and levels of commerce until the eighth century B.C., when Theseus unified the 12 settlements of Attica into the city of Athens. The former town came to be better known as a religious site, most strongly associated with a cult dedicated to the goddess Artemis.
Artemis was associated with many things: the hunt, the moon, the wilderness, chastity. But at Brauron, Artemis was worshipped primarily by women in connection with fertility and childbirth. The location was considered sacred to the goddess, and around 500 B.C., a temple was built at Brauron. During the reign of Peisistratos in the sixth century B.C., the Brauroneion—the sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia—was built on the Acropolis in Athens. A select group of Athenian girls were sent to the temple, where they would participate in rituals to mark their transition into womanhood.
This transition culminated in a ritual during a festival that was held every four years. Part of the festival was procession symbolizing the passage of childhood to youth and marriage. Starting at the Brauroneion, the girls would walk 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) to the Temple of Artemis in Brauron. The girls would wear bear skins, which were considered sacred to Artemis, while walking or riding in carts along this route.
When the Persian army, led by Xerxes, invaded Attica in 480 B.C., the temple was destroyed, then restored shortly after. Due to unrest during the first Macedonian War (the site was unfortified) and overflow issues with the Erasinos River the site was abandoned in the third century B.C. There was no activity at the site until the Byzantine period when in the sixth century A.D. Some ruins from the site were used to build a small Christian basilica further inland.
After centuries of silting, the Temple of Artemis now lies 400 meters (1300 feet) from the shoreline. Archaeological excavations have been conducted over the years, with major excavations in the 1940s through 1960s uncovering many objects that are now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Brauron and the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The site also includes a 5th century B.C. stone bridge over the River Erasinos that is scarred with indentations from ancient carts.
Know Before You Go
The Sanctuary of Brauronian Artemis is located within the Archaeological Site of Brauron. The site is open Tuesday through Sunday. From June 1 to October 31 the site is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. From November 1 to May 31 the site is open 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The site is closed select holidays. There is an entry fee (there are many free entry days, exceptions, and discounts that should be explored).
The Archaeological Museum of Brauron is also on the site. The site is also an active archaeological site, so at times certain areas may be restricted to the public.