Pictures from Mycenae

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The well-preserved ruins of the ancient city of Greece known as Mycenae are located in the northeastern Peloponnesus. It was the realm of the ill-fated House of Atreus and the home of Agamemnon, famed leader of the Greek forces during the Trojan war. The influence of this Aegean civilization spread to many parts of the Mediterranean region from about 1400 B.C. to 1150 B.C. It was rivaled only by Minoan Crete in ancient times. After centuries of power and prosperity, Mycenae was burned and destroyed by Dorian invaders from the north about 1100 B.C., but continued as a small Greek city state and sent 400 soldiers to fight at Thermopylae in 480 B.C.

The site was excavated in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur archaelogist who was convinced that Homer's account of the Trojan War was authentic. He began digging just inside the walls of the citadel where the royal graves were supposed to be located. When he found six tombs with 16 skeletons "literally covered with gold and jewels," Schliemann believed that he had unearthed Agamemnon and his followers. Although more recent archaeologists date the tombs to four centuries before the Trojan War, one of the artifacts discovered there is still referred to as "Agamemnon's mask". It is on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Map of Mycenae  

Here is a map of Mycenae to show the
general layout of the site.

a. Cyclopean Walls
b. Lions' Gate
c. Granary
d. Royal graves
e. Houses
f. Royal Palace
g. Artisans quarters
h. Cistern
i. Treasury of Atreus

The ruins of Mycenae sprawl over rugged terrain tucked between Mt. Aiyos and Mt. Zora. The city walls are composed of large, unhewn stones weighing 5-6 tons. They are known as Cyclopean walls because in Greek tradition, Cyclopes had built them. The imposing gateway to the acropolis is named the Lions' Gate for the decorative relief of two lions above the lintel.

Just inside the Lion gate on the right is the Granary, so named for the numerous large storage jars (pithoi) found in this room. Just beyond the Granary is the area where Schliemann found the royal graves and treasures, Grave Circle A. It is surrrounded by a double row of upright stone slabs and contains six shaft graves. These were originally situated outside of the city walls, but they were later incorporated when the city expanded.

A great ramp leads to the highest part of the citadel where the palace and royal apartments were located. Little is left of the buildings, but the floor plan is much like what Homer describes: courtyard, entrance hall, and throne room (megaron). At the far end of the city is an underground cistern which was used to store water in time of siege.

On leaving the city, just outside the Lions' gate on the left, are two of the excavated beehive tombs (tholos) which were used for noble burials. Farther down the hill is the largest and most impressive one, the so-called Treasury of Atreus. The entry way to the tomb is a wide passage called the Dromos that is cut into the hillside. The tomb is a domed "beehive" chamber built of overhanging blocks of stone. The dome is 43 feet high and 50 feet across. The lintel over the doorway is a single stone weighing about 120 tons. Off to the right is a rectangular chamber, an unusual addition whose function remains a mystery. According to Pausanius, the ancients regarded this as the tomb of Agamemnon, but it was likely built a century or two before Agamemnon's time. The tomb had been robbed in antiquity and was empty when discovered.

You might enjoy reading a biographical novel about Henrich Schliemann and his wife Sophia: The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone. It tells the fascinating story of their marriage and their discovery of the gold in both Troy and Mycenae.


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