Mycenae


The ancient citadel of Mycenae is located in the North-East part of Peloponnese in Argolis, about 1.5 hours away from Athens, and it is an imposing site on top of a rocky hill.

Mycenae was the center of power in the Late Bronze age (1600-1100 BCE), and the excavated ruins that sculpt the top of the rocky hill protected the royal families inside the famous Cyclopean walls. Legend has it that Mycenae was founded by Perseus, and the entire culture of mainlad Greece during the Bronze age was named Mycenaean during the late Helladic period. With its legents, art, and ideas, Mycenean culture reached its zenith from 1300 BCE until 1100 BCE.

Mycenaean culture is the source of ancient epics and legends such as the dynasty of Atreids, the labours of Hercules, the Trojan war, the Thyestian Feast, and Agamemnon's tragic life and death. The surrounding area of Argolis was dominated by many different citadels similar to Myceneae, and during the Bronze Age they took advantage of the geopoliticaly important location to accumulate considerable wealth and poser.

The Acropolis of Mycenae

The ruins of the Mycenaean Acropolis themselves are a delight. The awe inspiring "Lion Gates" (the earliest known piece of monumental sculpture in the European continent) take you to the interior of the acropolis, and a steep path leads your climb through several ancient buildings and pathways, towards the palace where Agamemnon was murdered by his wife Klytemenestra and her lover after he returned victorious from the Trojan war.

One of the most impressive features of the citadel is the Grave Circle A which contains six royal shaft graves. It is located just inside the Lion Gates to the right, and it contrasts beautifully with the angular designs of all the other adjasent structures. A great number of Kterismata (objects buried alongside the dead) and gold death masks were unearthed from this grave site and they are now exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. All that remains today of the acropolis are the building foundations, and the immense wall that crowns the top of the hill.

Nothing around the site remains today to speak of the human dramas that have taken place three thousand years ago on this bold hill. The ruinous walls remain silent about how an entire civilization managed to dominate from such desolate rock, and how events twisted and escalated to the point where a mighty coalition of city-states set sail for Troy and fought for years before they were able to call themselves victorious. There is an eerie silence about the place that fails to speak of the tragedy that unfolded in the heart of the palace and found Agamemnon - the mighty leader of the Greeks against the Trojans - murdered by his wife and her lover.

During my visit, I looked around the Mycenaean Acropolis and saw ruins scarred by the weather for eons. I saw a dry desolate hill crowned by the skeletons of ancient palaces and courts, embraced by impregnable cyclopean walls, and royal buildings crashed under the mighty weight of history. I looked around the acropolis at Mycenae and did not see spectacular buildings, or art, or engineering marvels. I just saw a simple accumulation of humble stones on top of a rocky hill that stoicaly continue their trip towards the entropy which comes with time.

Once in Mycenae, you must visit the "Treasury of Atreus" which is a site on another hill opposite the palace just beyond the general parking lot. It is easily accessible from the road and many people opt to walk from one place to the other.

The Treasury of Atreus is a beautiful Tholos Tomb, and is also known as the "Tomb of Agamemnon". It was built around 1250 BC, and it is an impressive monument worth visiting. You can enter by showing the ticket you bought at Mycenae. The size of the tomb and the masonry work is awe inspiring. Despite its name, no treasures were found in the tomb as it has been pillaged in ancient times, but there is one item that could not be stolen: the tomb's aesthetic awe inspiring appearance.

Visiting Mycenae

The highway from Athens to the Mycene area is new and well maintained. Drive towards Nauplion and follow signs to Mycenae.

Once there you will find that Mycenae is a challenging site to navigate. Be prepared for a steep climb through the ruins and be prepared to endure the relentless sun rays that are impossible to avoid since there is hardly any shade. Even the most hasty of tours would occupy about an hour. Two hours should be sufficient to tour the site leisourly.

You will want to dress very lightly with steardy shoes since you will be climbing steep and rocky paths on a steep hill under the sun. It is imperative that you wear a hat after 9:00 am. Once you go past the ticket booth there is no place to buy water or a toilet. There is a shop, communal bathrooms, and some water near the museum and you might want to venture this way before you enter the Lion Gates. I would take along two bottles of water for the climb. The only cantina in the place is in the parking lot across from the citadel.

If you go in the morning, it would be best to climb the ancient ruins first and save the museum visit for the hotter part of the day. Enter the site through the Lion Gate and follow the well marked path up the hill, past the pallace, all the way to the Northern Gate. If you wish to descent down to the underground cistern bring along a flash light since the tunnel is completely dark, steep, and slippery.

I noticed that by 10:00 AM an armada of busses had descended to the site and unloaded an incredible number of tourists, resulting in full parking lots, long lines at the ticket counter, and a site that is difficult to navigate. The trick is to get to the site way before all the busses arrive.

Many of the artifacts that were unearthed during excavations at Mycenae have been taken off site and they are exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.The Archaeological Museum of Mycenae is also full of important artifacts and definetly worth a visit.

Aerial View of Mycenae

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