Mycenae, the civilization that followed the Minoans but essentially founded Greece. Accredited with creation of the Greek language, influence future myths and production of magnificent structures, some of which can still be seen today. In a mere 400 years, from 1600 BCE to 1100 BCE, the Mycenaean civilization thrived and conquered most of modern Greece. We were lucky enough to visit the archeological site of Mycenae.
This site houses the most popular set of ancient Mycenaean ruins in Greece, receiving 1000s of tourists every day. We left for our adventure through these 3500 year old ruins early in the morning on a free shuttle. As there was no local bus running to the site and it happened that there was a half marathon on the day we visited, there were free shuttles leaving Argos to transport runners to the starting line. We happily hopped on one, pretending, horribly I might add, that we were actually planning to run the race. I was surprised that we weren’t turfed from the bus instantly, as our acting skills are terrible.
We arrived at the Mycenaean site by 8:15 – only a few minutes after it had opened, and because it was early we were some of the first visitors. We were able to enjoy the most impressive parts alone, whereas my mom, who had visited the year before, had said that there were thousands of other tourists at that time.
All that can bee seen today are the remains of a fortress, the ruins of a small town and many tombs of the Mycenaeans. The main entrance to the ruins has been nicknamed the Lion Gate. Probably the most recognizable part of the entire site, this famous gate is known for the depiction of two lionesses standing in a heraldic pose, just above the lintel. It was amazing to take pictures of this gate with no one else in the background, unlike all of my mom’s photos from last year. The first area along the path after the gate was Grave Circle A, where Heinrich Schliemann found the supposed “Death Mask of Agamemnon”, which is now housed in the National Museum of Greece. It has recently been proven unlikely that this mask actually belonged to this particular King of Mycenae, as Agamemnon was supposedly alive 300 years earlier then the mask dates, and is now also thought that he was probably no more then a myth.
After exploring the graves, we continued to wander through the fortress, seeing the remains of the castle, the cistern and the artisan’s workshops. We had the chance to see some half-worked chips of ivory, gold, semi-precious and precious stones from about 1300 BCE that had been used by the artists in these workshops. Our last stops in Mycenae were the tholos tombs. Shaped like beehives on the inside, these grand burial sites for royalty rivaled the Egyptian pyramids. The builders used stones with an average weight of 10 tones, whereas the pyramids stones are a maximum of 5 tones. The doors alone were about 8m x 5m x 1m, with lintels of over 125 tones – in other words – ginormous! As the space was shaped like a cone, the acoustics in these tombs were amazing. Even by stepping on the ground a sound would be created that was incredibly loud, and echo for a long time.
A fortress of the ages, Mycenae was one of my favourite places in Greece, along with Olympia. Stay tuned for my exploration of the place where the first Olympic games were held.