Mycenae is in the north-western Peloponnese in Greece, approximately half an hour’s drive from the city of Nafplio, in Argolis. It’s famous because of the brothers Menelaus and Agamemnon, two of the heroes of the Trojan War. The lion gate at the entrance of this old city depicts two lions, and these embody the bravery and courage of the two famous brothers of the house of Atreus. The city is linked to the neighbouring one of Tiryns, now also in ruins. Of course, both cities feature in Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey.
The civilisations of Mycenae and the Minoans on Crete were clearly linked, although we had no real proof until recently, except for the similarities in their art
The legend of Clytemnestra’s bath and Agamemnon’s death
You will find the ruins of Mycenae and Tiryns if you drive to Nafplio and follow the signs to Mykines. Mycenae is an impressive site with its cyclopean walls, the legendary bath where Clytemnestra killed her husband Agamemnon because, before he set sail for Troy, he sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to appease the gods and receive a favourable wind.
Cyclopean walls have no mortar to hold them in place, but they rely on the huge boulders that fit together, rather like a massive jigsaw puzzle. You can see examples of these walls in Mycenae and Tiryns. Ancient people believed that the huge stones could only have been carried by the Cyclops, hence the name.
The fortress or palace of Mycenae was founded between the 14th and 13th centuries BC, when Mycenaean civilisation was at its zenith. According to mythology it was founded by the hero Perseus. Allegedly he named the site either after the scabbard of his sword (mykes) which fell from his hand to the ground, or because he found a spring near a mushroom (also mykes). The site has commanding views over the area and wold have3 been difficult for an enemy to capture.
The Mycenaean civilisation was the most powerful during the period between the15th and 12th century B.C It was a golden age which played a very important role in the development of Greek culture in antiquity. Both Mycenae and the nearby abcient city of Tiryns feature in Homer’s epic poems, The Odyssey and The Iliad.
Mycenae and the Minoans
The civilisations of Mycenae and the Minoans on Crete were clearly linked, although we had no real proof until recently, except for the similarities in their art. Because of the time scale, archaeologists are unsure as to how and why these civilisations interacted. However, we know that the Mycenaeans wrote in the Linear B script. and thousands of clay tablets inscribed with this script have been discovered at Knossos. The only other examples (so far) of this script have been found in or near Pylos on the Greek mainland.
Pylos is where the Palace of Nestor was located. Nestor’s palace was perched high on as hill overlooking the bay of Navarino. This palace is the best-preserved example of the Bronze Age palaces on mainland Greece. Archaeologists found thousands of clay tablets there, all inscribed in Linear B script. There was also the exciting discovery of the grave of the ‘Griffin warrior’ which shed light on burial traditions. It had been thought that jewellery and precious stones were only present in women’s tombs, but the tomb of the Griffin warrior contained a veritable treasure trove.
It may be that we will never totally understand the connections that existed between the two ancient cultures, but archaeologists are trying their utmost to unravel the mysteries surrounding them.
The Beehive or Tholos tombs
Dating from the 15th and 14th centuries BC are the tholos tombs, shaped like beehives. There are nine of them located close to ancient Mycenae, the two most impressive bring two which are known as Clytemnestra’s tomb and the Treasury of Atreus.
There is also a beehive tomb in Tiryns, located about a kilometre away from the ancient city, on a slope of the Profitis Ilias hill. It should be noted that there are many places with the prophet’s name in the Peloponnese (Ilias refers to the sun ήλιος (ilios) in Greek. A second tomb can was also found to the southwest.
Interestingly, tholos, or beehive tombs have also been found on Crete.
Visiting the ruins of Mycenae
You need to be reasonably fit to climb to the top of the ruined city of Mycenae (at the time of writing you can’t clamber around ancient Tiryns, although you can view the site from the road which takes you to Nafplio). You are expected to follow the route laid out for visitors to the site.
You can visit the museum before or after you climb to view the ancient city. It contains a plethora of beautiful artefacts which were found at Mycenae.
The treasury is located at the other side of the road to the city. If you don’t have much time, skip the treasury. The palace and museum are must-sees though.
Enjoy your tour with Kostas and Enjoy Greece Tours.