Day trip to Mycenae

In the Iliad, Homer described Mycenae as ‘a city rich in gold.’ It was the legendary home of King Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks who went to Troy to fight the Trojan War. The Greeks of classical antiquity idealized the Mycenaean period as a glorious period of heroes, closeness of the gods and material wealth, as described in the Trojan Epic cycle.
In 1876, amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann set out to prove the historical accuracy of the Iliad by identifying the places described by Homer. Using the text of Pausanias, the second-century A.D. traveller, as his guide, he excavated the site at Mycenae, discovering the deep shaft graves where bodies were buried dressed in lavishly decorated shrouds adorned with gold items and diadems and with their faces covered by masks of gold or electrum (such as the Mask of Agamemnon, below).

Copy of the mask of Agamemenon
Copy of the mask of Agamemenon

 

However, the very first excavations at Mycenae were carried out in 1841 by Greek archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis, who found and restored the impressive Lion Gate, at the entrance to the acropolis.

 

 

 

The gate of lions
The gate of lions

 

image

The Minoan civilization (see post, here) was brought to an abrupt end in c. 1500 BC. Historians surmise the palaces were destroyed by fire, earthquake and a tsunami caused by the eruption of the Santorini volcano.

Meanwhile, another brilliant civilization was emerging, that of the Mycenaeans, who set up a number of centers of power in southern mainland Greece. They were a warrior elite society, as is witnessed by their palaces which, contrary to those of the Minoans, featured impressive fortifications.

The Myceneans were much influenced by Minoan Crete, and, after its decline, took control of Crete including Knossos, and colonized several other Aegean islands, reaching as far as Rhodes.

The principal Mycenaean centers were well fortified and usually situated on an elevated terrain. One of their most impressive cities, just 90km from Athens, was Mycenae, or Mykines, as we call it. Built on a tall hill overlooking a fertile plain and the gulf of Argolis and beneath towering peaks, it is the reminder of their glorious civilization.

 

The view from the acropolis
The view from the acropolis
The ruined city of Mycenae
The ruined city of Mycenae

On a recent day trip, we enjoyed the amazing view of the plain stretching beneath the city ruins to the sea. The famous fortifications, know as Cyclopean walls, are built of large, unworked boulders more than 8 m (26 ft) thick and weighing several metric tonnes. They were roughly fitted together without the use of mortar or clay to bind them, though smaller hunks of limestone fill the interstices.

 

image

 

Following the Shaft Grave era, a new and more imposing type of elite burial emerged, resulting in a characteristic feature of the Mycenaean civilization, the Tholos: large circular burial chambers with high vaulted roofs and a straight entry passage lined with stone.

The most impressive of these is the Treasure of Atreas, which might have been the tomb of Agamemnon, or his father, Atreas.

image
Entrance to the tomb. Above is the ‘relieving triangle’. The stone beneath is the largest and most heavy found on the site.

 

Above the entrance we can see one of Mycenaens’ architectural innovations,the relieving triangle. The Mycenaean Greeks were pioneers in the field of engineering, launching large-scale projects unmatched in Europe until the Roman period, such as fortifications, bridges, culverts, aqueducts, dams and roads suitable for wheeled traffic.

Inside the tomb
Inside the tomb

image

 

In an amusing footnote, today the Treassure of Atreas is being squatted by a swarm of bees, which obviously appreciate ancient culture as well as the tomb’s resemblance to a giant beehive. These bees are apparently a rare species, so the authorities are unwilling to spray them and are trying to find a way to eject them humanely. The bees are also different in that they don’t sting; when we were there, they were buzzing happily about and did not interfere with our visit in the least. However, it was still April. Apparently in the height of the season, when thousands of tourists are visiting, their numbers are such that most people are scared to enter the tomb. Also, the lure of honey attracts  numerous birds and bats, whose droppings result in a filthy floor and an unbearable smell. It will be interesting to see what solution will be found to this problem.

The on-site museum is small but full of treasures.

The octopus was supposed to looked after the souls of the drowned
The octopus was supposed to care for the souls of the drowned
Primitive idols
Anthropomorphic ceramic figurines
This one almost looks like an alien!
This one almost looks like an alien!

 

On the way back to Athens, we stopped at the Ancient Theater of Argos, nestled in the hill above the city. The theater was built in the Hellenistic period (third century BC) and had a seating capacity of 20,000. It was remodeled during the Roman period (second century AD) and even today, a number of cultural events are held there.

image

 

image

28 thoughts on “Day trip to Mycenae

  1. Marina, I loved this post. I’ve had a deep interest in these two cultures for many years and envy you being able to actually visit. It must have been so special to stand in the same place as ancestors before you stood centuries ago. Thanks for the great photos.

    Like

  2. This is such an interesting and thoroughly researched post. I feel much more clued up on that era now. I’ve been to Knossos twice and each time been amazed not just by the site itself but by the atmosphere of it – did you feel that whilst visiting the tomb et? Great photos accompanying the words and I loved the footnote about the bees – I don’t think I’d enter there either with all the noise and smell in summer!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating post! I’m so glad they’re trying to find a way to deal with the bees without destroying them, though I must admit I’d be way too scared to go in when they’re at their peak…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating post, Marina. Thanks for taking me along with you. Love that cute alien. 🙂 Schliemann must have been beside himself with excitement when he discovered the graves and artefacts. What a find!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s