Ancient Mycenae & the Treasury of Atreus

Less than half an hour’s drive from the quaint seaside town of Nafplion, you will find the ancient city of Mycenae.  This city was one of the finest examples of Mycenaean culture, inspiring Homer in his epic poems.  There is an onsite museum displaying many of the artefacts recovered during its excavation.   A UNESCO world heritage site, the city is located in the North East  Peloponnese region in Greece.

Ancient Mycenae
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Ancient Mycenae

As you stroll around the ruins of the city and look at the remains of walls, grave circles,  cistern, and other structures that have been in place since at least 1600BC, it is easy to connect the site to the legends in Greek mythology  –  of demigods and kings, with their tragic tales.  It is such an ancient place.   Set on the top of a hill, you can see all the way to the Aegean Sea, and for miles across the rolling countryside.   A perfect place for a magnificent city.

The Lions Gate

Making your way up the hill towards the city you come to the main gateway:  the Lions Gate.  The massive stone gate is impressive.  I have been to this site twice (both times with my parents), with a 38-year gap in between visits.  It was really interesting to go back and see the place through the eyes of an adult and compare these to my memories as a child.

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That gate was as remarkable as I remembered it being!

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Climbing up to the top of the citadel you can look down over the site, and across a beautiful landscape with the mountains in the distance.

The Underground Cistern

Moving towards the back of the city, you will find the entry to the underground cistern, which was originally outside the city.  Later, the cistern was enclosed by the city walls to allow city residents safe access to the water.  Amazing construction for a bronze age city.

The above photos show what it is like to look down into the entrance of the cistern, and then back up from inside the entrance.  I’m not really a cave loving type of person, and I did find it just a little bit scary.  I congratulated myself on being brave enough to go into the dark cave through the tunnel of rocks made centuries ago ( did they have engineering standards to adhere to back then??….),  and snap a couple of pictures.  Then I scrambled out in a bit of hurry, consequently tripping on the stairs in my haste.

The Postern Gate

The Postern Gate is the second gate to the city.  You will come to this gate after taking the path that leads away from the cistern.  There are some fantastic views out over the countryside down this side of the hill as well.

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Ancient Mycenae – Museum

The artefacts recovered from the various grave sites show the Mycenaean people to have indeed been “rich in gold”, as Homer observed in his Iliad.  There was a famous gold funeral mask uncovered at one of the grave circles, initially thought to belong to Agamemnon, however, this theory was later disproved.  Even so, the artefact is still known as the Mask of Agamemnon and is on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.   Below are a few of the other objects on display in the museum at Mycenae.

The Treasury of Atreus

The tholos, or ‘beehive’ tomb named the “Treasury of Atreus” or the “Tomb of Agamemnon” is a short walk down the hill from the main citadel, and is said to be one of the most amazing monuments of Mycenaean architecture.

When we visited this site 38 years ago, we were on a tour, with a tour guide.  As is their way, the tour guide stops the group outside the entrance and explains the significance of what the group is about to see, and what the possible functions for this site were.  Sometimes it takes the guide a little longer to explain the story than the attention span of a 9-year-old can wait.  I started standing on some stones, and oops, one was wobbling and I fell off it.   Our tour guide made a joke that the stone had been on that path for centuries, undisturbed until now…..

The use of megalithic elements in the entrance, (can you see the size of that massive stone??) and the relieving triangle above the door to distribute the weight to the posts so the lintel won’t crack,  give credit to the ingenuity of that civilisation.   As do the 33 concentric circles of corbelled stones that line the inside of the tomb ending in a single stone at the top. Once the vault was completed, the masons carved away the stone stepped interior, eventually leaving a smooth arching wall.  It is 13m high and leaves you thinking “wow”.

Further information

Allow yourself about two hours to wander around the site and the museum at ancient Mycenae, to appreciate the achievements of the Mycenaean people, and to be amazed.

Here is the link to the site for further information on admission costs and opening hours:   Mycenae

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