Exploring Ruins of Ancient Greece: Mycenae

View of Mycenae

View of Mycenae

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.

 

 

Remains of the old town and view

Remains of the old town and view

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.

 

The Lion Gate

The Lion Gate

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.

Tholos dome

Tholos Dome

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.

Pieces of gold jewelry found in Grave Circle A

Pieces of gold jewelry found in Grave Circle A

Grave Circle A

Grave Circle A

Grave Circle A - Close Up

Grave Circle A – Close Up

"The Death Mask of Agamemnon", found in Grave Circle A

“The Death Mask of Agamemnon”, found in Grave Circle A – National Museum of Greece

Golden Bull found in Grave Circle A

Golden Bull found in Grave Circle A

Entrance to Tholos Tomb

Entrance to Tholos Tomb

 

 

 

 

The Valley of the Kings and Egyptian Authorities

Veiw of the Valley of the Kings from our Hotel on the East Bank

Veiw of the Valley of the Kings from our Hotel on the East Bank

As we arrived in the Valley of the Kings and made decisions as to which tombs to visit, who knew that we would face a few challenges. Our chosen tombs included: the tomb of Thutmose III, the tomb of Twosret and Setnakhte, the tomb of Horemheb, and the tomb of Ay.

Thutmose III’s tomb is situated high up in the face of a cliff, so we had to climb up several sets of rickety metal stairs to reach the tomb. The tomb was about 100 meters up, and I felt bad for people who were afraid of heights that wanted to visit the tomb. This tomb contains two rooms, an antechamber and a burial chamber. In both of these rooms there were only painted hieroglyphics – no engraved or embossed work was visible. These hieroglyphics were done in black paint; however, the mock-up sketches done in red paint were clearly visible underneath. At first we thought that people had restored most of the tomb and that the mock-ups may have been the original work. Later we found out that Thutmose III had died at a young age and the artisans that were working on his tomb had to finish quickly. This caused the hieroglyphics to look rushed and less detailed then other tombs.

The next tomb we saw belonged to a husband and wife – Twosret and Setnakhte’s. The burial of two people in the same tomb was unusual in ancient Egypt. This was my favourite tomb that we visited in the Valley of the Kings. This tomb contained four rooms – two decorated hallways, an antechamber, and a burial chamber. The antechamber was in the shape of a cylinder, with eight columns along the wall, and the burial chamber had the form of a rectangular prism, with another eight columns along the wall. My favourite part of the tomb was the two semi-circular walls in the antechamber. The colour was bold and the engraved and painted scenes were perfectly preserved.

While my mom and I were alone in the antechamber, slowly appreciating the beautiful artwork, a guard came running down the hall towards us. We didn’t know what was happening when he stopped in front of us, and aggressively claimed that we had been taking pictures of the antechamber – which is totally forbidden unless you pay baksheesh (Egyptian word for bribe). The guard demanded that my mom show him her phone, to see if she was taking pictures. My mom reluctantly handed over her phone, and when the guard found nothing on mom’s phone, he made her empty her purse thinking that she had another camera. An older guard approached and started yelling at the guard who had first spoken to us. As they were talking in Arabic, we didn’t understand a thing, but my mom thought that the older guard was saying something along the lines of “Did you see them taking pictures?” “How did you know that they were taking pictures?”. Later we saw the guard that had first accused us outside, as if he was on a time-out!

The tomb of Horemheb was our third stop in the Valley of the Kings. His tomb contains three rooms – a decorated room, an antechamber and a burial chamber. This was the deepest tomb and it seemed that we descended forever. Throughout the tomb there are many perfectly persevered scenes of ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. There was also a beautiful sarcophagus in the burial chamber that had depictions of the ancient Egyptian God Amon-Ra.

The last tomb we saw in the Valley of the Kings was the tomb of Ay. As this tomb was three kilometers from the main part of the Valley of the Kings, we had to take our taxi that was parked outside the grounds to it. There were police that were guarding the vehicle entrance to the grounds. Our taxi driver, Hassan, got out of the car and told them where we wanted to go, and they demanded that a police officer go with us to the tomb. Hassan didn’t want a police officer to come with us because they would demand baksheesh, and Hassan didn’t think that that was right. After 45 minutes of arguing with all three levels of police at the Valley of the Kings: Tourist, Municipal and Military, we were allowed to drive to the tomb of Ay with a Tourist Police officer (with no baksheesh involved). Now there were 6 people in a car built for a maximum of 5. Half way to the site we had to stop for another person, the tomb’s gatekeeper. There were 7 of us now! Me, Matthew, Mom and Dad all in the back, Hassan in the driver’s seat, and the police officer and the gatekeeper in the passenger seat! It was so squishy! About 1 hour after we had first tried to set off for the tomb, we finally arrived. It contained only one room, and there were no engraved or embossed work done in this tomb, only painted scenes were featured. An interesting part of this tomb was that all of the paintings were original – no restoration had been done to them. The baboons painted on the walls were particularly clear. As we left the tomb, the gatekeeper asked my dad for baksheesh which my dad reluctantly paid.

During my time in the Valley of the Kings, I found it amazing to stand in the tombs alone, as some friends of ours (Steve, Ann, Kathleen, and Robbie) visited seven years ago before the revolution and felt claustrophobic because there were so many people inside such small spaces. I wholly recommend this ancient Egyptian site to anyone who visits Luxor, Egypt, but have small bills ready to use for baksheesh!

P.S. Since taking photos was forbidden and we weren’t willing to pay baksheesh to the gatekeepers of the tombs, we did not take any photos. Sorry, but here are some pictures of other places on the West Bank!  We would have shared more, but the wifi is not working so well and it takes forever to post!

Valley of the Nobles

Valley of the Nobles

In front of Hatshepsut's Temple

In front of Hatshepsut’s Temple

Alex & The Godess

Alex & The Godess Nekhbet at Medinet Habu