Return to Home Page Harrys Greece Guide

Plan: Citadel of Mycenae Peloponnese Greece

Mycenae Open 8:30 am to 7:30 pm daily in summer; 8:30 am to 3 pm daily in winter, combined ticket for the Citadel, Treasury of Atreus, and museum ticket costs 9 euros

greece travel map mycenae This World Heritage site is located to the east of the road between Korinthos and Argos in the barren foothills of the mountains Ayios Ilias and Mt. Zara.

Heinrich Schliemann, the German father of modern archeology who excavated Troy in the 1870s, also excavated Mycenae.

In both cases pursuing and proving his belief that Homer had described actual places in his epics.

The region was occupied from Neolithic times, with settlements dating from 3000 BC, one of the longest - areas of human occupation in Greece. The period of Mycenaean civilization was from about 1550 to 1200 BC, with the city of Mycenae leading a confederation of cities, including Tiryns, Argos, Assine, and Hermione, which dominated the Peloponnese, though its influence pervaded all of the Aegean. Though it was long believed that Mycenaean civilization fell as a result of Dorian invasions, scholarly opinion now has it that war among rival kingdoms led to its decline.

The legend of the House of Atreus

Main sources of the bloody legend of the Mycenaean dynasty is related in Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, as well as in Aeschylus' Orestia. According to the legend the founder of the city of Mycenae was Perseus, whose dynasty was overthrown by Pelops, son of Tantalus, the city later falling under the power of the House of Atreus. The latter was known for wreaking punishment upon his brother Thyestes, who seduced his wife, by murdering Thyestes' children and serving them up in a stew to the unknowing father. Thyestes had fathered a son with his own daughter, named Aegisthus, who murdered Atreus and put Thyestes on the throne. In the following generation, Atreus' son Agamemnon, ( who had sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigeneia, in order to insure his success as commander of the Greek forces in that war) upon his return from Troy, was slaughtered in his bath by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus (who had killed Agamemnon's father). Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, murdered his own mother in revenge, and was pursued by the Furies for this act of matricide until the goddess Athena finally lifted the curse from the House of Atreus. Scholars interpret these gory tales of revenge as literary rendition of the struggles of dynasties over various periods.

The Citadel of Mycenae

The entry to the citadel is via the famous Lion Gate, with huge posts that supported massive walls, the pillar supported by two lions most likely symbol of the Mycenaean royal house. The royal cemeteries in Grave Circle A, were believed by Schliemann to contain the remains of Agamemnon and his coterie, murdered upon return from Troy, with the famous gold mask found at the same time loudly proclaimed as the mask of Agamemnon himself, though these graves were later found to date from some three centuries prior to the Trojan War.

They were indeed royal graves, however, and could well have belonged to a king named Agamemnon, given Homer's possible combining of various earlier legendary dynasties. In remains of one of the houses to the south of the grave circle, Schliemann found the famous Warrior Vase, noted for its depiction of warriors of that period. The Royal Palace (almost misidentified by Schiliemann), later found near the summit of the acropolis, was rebuilt in the 13th century BC, and is quite elaborate, the rooms easy to discern. It was built around a main central court (like all Mycenaean palaces), with a supposed staircase leading to the large throne room and a double porch to the main hall (megaron), with thetypical round hearth. One of the small room on the north side, believed to have been royal apartments, are remains of a red stuccoed bath, which is believed by some to have been the scene of the bloody murder of Agamemnon. A secret cistern dating from the 12th century BC is found at the eastern end of the ramparts, with steps leading down to an underground spring. Though possible to descend all the way to the point where there's a 70 meter (230 foot) drop to the water, it's not recommended for the feeble, either of foot (slippery and dark) or heart.

A famous passage in Henry Miller's classic, 'The Colossus of Marousi' describes the author's intense experience of the spookiness of the place, which he adamantly s refused to undertake after the first few steps.

The nearby House of Columns an impressive large building with the remains of the base of a stairway that obviously led to an upper storey.

Outside of the citadel walls are remains of the town where non-royalty lived, with merchants' houses that contained Linear B tablets with lists of spices that were used as scents for oils, believed to have been connected with a perfume trade; the large quantity of pottery found in the same areas deemed evidence of this. Remains of Grave Circle B, dating from about 1650 BC, suspected by some to represent a rival dynasty to that of the royalty buried in Grave Circle A (above).

Two tholos tombs in the same area were believed by Schliemann to be the graves of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. The Treasury of Atreus, at a distance down the road from the Citadel site, now known as the 'Tomb of Agamemnon', is a structure of the type known as 'beehive', and built without mortar. The corridor through which one enters this impressive tomb is 15 meters long (49 feet), and the huge doorway of the chamber has a gargantuan lintel formed by two massive stone slabs, one of which is a full 9 meters in length (29.5 feet), its weight estimated at 118 tons.