We were reluctant to leave the lovely town of Nafplio, but we were in for an incredible day! A quick 45 minute drive from our hotel brought us to some of the oldest ruins in Greek history: the citadel of Mycenae. History and mythology tell us Mycenae was founded by the Greek hero Perseus and became a major military power during the Mycenaean period. It was ruled (and ruined) by kings Atreus and Agamemnon, and at its height had a population of 30,000 people.
Our first stop of our tour brought us to the famous “Treasury” of Atreus. Also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon, this burial mound was actually built for a ruler who lived and died before either of these famous men, around 1250 BC. It is a “tholos” tomb, in a beehive shape, and its dimensions are massive. It was the world’s largest domed structure for a thousand years, only to be surpassed by the Pantheon in Rome. How the ancient architects were able to construct such a colossal monument is still up for debate, but each stone is particularly shaped and placed to withhold the weight of the stones above it.
We then made our way past grave circles to the Cyclopean wall and through the Lion Gate. This was the entrance to the citadel – quite the intimidation for attacking armies. The Cyclopean wall is so named because it is made of stones so large they say only a Cyclops could have built it. The wall guides you to the narrow Gate which is adorned by two lionesses and would allow only so many through at a time. What an incredible defense system! Mycenae was ready for war – they had even routed water from a neighboring mountain to a spring within the citadel.
Once inside, we wandered around the palace area, the foundations of houses, and artisan shops. We climbed down into the water cistern and ogled at the incredible surrounding view. There’s not much standing anymore, this area is prone to earthquakes, but the stories of Mycenae still live strong.
We got to read some of the epic from Homer about how Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, went to war against the Trojans to return his brother’s wife to him. The war lasted an expensive ten years. When Agamemnon returned, he was greeted royally by his wife, Clytemnestra, who drew him a bath … and murdered him.
The history of Mycenae is a story of blood and vengeance, but it is also a story of the greatness that humanity can achieve. Within the grave circles of Mycenae archaeologists have found incredible treasures that now mostly live in Athens at the Archaeological Museum but also reside within the Mycenae museum. Such finds as the gold “Mask of Agamemnon,” examples of Linear B, jewelry, a helmet made of boar’s tusks, and trade items from as far as Egypt.Comments Off on Greece 2014: Day Seven, Mycenae