Mycenae Citadel 2019

Mycenae death mask

In 2019 we returned to the Peloponnese to visit a few ancient Greek sites that we had missed before.

Below is a photo journal created by Karin with a little editing by Michael. It is an evocative, personalised account of what we saw at this ancient monument.

Mycenae is pronounced Mykines in Greek. (Mee kin ES).
When I told people we were going to My cen ee (our way of saying it) they had NO idea where were going!

Anyway, this is the ruins of Mycenae from the parking lot. We got here very early and ended up being very happy about that because we had to climb a lot and it was a hot day.
The main page for Mycenae is HERE

Ruins and hill from distance

The archaeological site of Mycenae is among the most important places in mainland Greece.
Mycenae was the most powerful town of its days and even gave its name to an entire historical period, the Mycenaean period.

This model was at the site and very helpful to see it 'from the air'...

model of Mycenae

These maps are all over the site with numbers so you always know where you are and what you are seeing.

helpful site maps

So let's head up to the site!

The Mycenaean period was from 1,600 BC to 1,100 BC.
This is the path up to the main gate...I read in a book I bought that this is the way the original road came up to the city. So we are walking on an ancient road which is amazing!

towards Mycenae gate

The citadel of Mycenae was constructed on the slopes of a hill overlooking the Argos valley.
It was protected by Cyclopean walls made from HUGE stones.

Cyclopian wall

The famous Lion Gate.
So named because of the two lions with feet standing on an alter with a column in between them.
The heads are missing and it is thought they were made from metal and plundered long ago.

Lion Gate

And to prove I was there...that is me, holding the side wall up!
The gate is 10 feet by 10 feet and 20 feet thick!
In the ancient times, there was a wooden door to shut the entrance. The door opened inwards and locked with a wooden bar.

Karin at Lion Gate

Across the top of the jamb is an enormous lintel believed to weigh around twenty tons.

The massive stones out of which the Lion Gate and the walls of Mycenae have been constructed are sometimes also called Cyclopean.
The Cyclops were a mythical race of Giants. The later Greeks believed that only the Cyclops would have been strong enough to lift the blocks of stone found at Mycenaean sites.

The Cyclopes are described by Homer in the Odyssey as having a single round eye in the center of their foreheads.

close up Lion Gate

The first place to see was this burial site.
It was initially constructed outside the fortification walls of Mycenae, but was ultimately enclosed in the acropolis when the fortifications were extended during the 13th century BC.

artist view of burial site

The circle has a diameter of 27.5 m (90 ft) and contains six shaft graves, where a total of nineteen bodies were buried.
It has been suggested that a mound was constructed over each grave, and funeral stelae were erected.

grave circle

The valuable objects found in the graves suggest that only powerful rulers were buried here.
Among the objects found were a series of gold death masks, full sets of weapons, ornate staffs as well as gold and silver cups.
Examples are shown in the last few slides.

more grave circle

We begin our walk around the grave circle.

outside grave circle

Moving along . . .

more circle

Looking in at works. Wondering at the extremely difficult job of excavating and then having the knowledge to understand and identify all the different layers. Mind boggling!

inside grave circle

This site was excavated by the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1876, following the descriptions of Homer and Pausanias.
One of the gold masks he unearthed became known as "The Death Mask of Agamemnon", ruler of Mycenae according to Greek mythology.
However, it has been proven that the burials happened three centuries earlier, before Agamemnon is supposed to have lived. So...even the top archaeologists get it wrong!

more inside grave

This is what he found! The supposedly death mask of Agamemnon. The mask is one of five discovered in the royal shaft graves at Mycenae—the faces and hands of two children in one grave were covered with gold leaf.

The mask of Agamemnon was created from a single thick gold sheet, heated and hammered against a wooden background with the details added on later with a sharp tool.
Following his discoveries at the site, Schliemann notified King George of Greece. He is supposed to have told the king in a telegraph, "I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon".
Schliemann later named his son, Agamemnon Schliemann, after the legendary king.

Mycenae death mask

This picture of a model was on Wikipedia, but thought it gives a great description of the site. You can see the Lions Gate and to the right is the round Grave site.
(Palace on the top built along a steep gorge).

city model

From the grave site we had great views over the valley and the mountains beyond.

grave circle and mountains beyong

We are looking at the Argos Valley ...parking lot in foreground...which is empty but was JAM packed with tour buses and cars when we left!
Yes, it does pay to get there early!

Argos valley from Mycenae

Taken with a zoom...we could see the Larisa Castle above the town of Argos.
These surrounding mountains had several Byzantine/Venetian forts or castles.

Larisa Castle

Now we are making our way along the path that will take us to the Palace.

citadel out buildings

The palace was built on the summit of the hill. High cliffs protect it from one side.

Mycenae reconstruction

The Palace comprised a large court and the central hall with an entrance portico. The antechamber and the main hall has a large circular hearth in the center.

Somewhere in those maze of rooms, Agamemnon was murdered. Who murdered him? Well, like all of Greek mythology or legends it is vague, but supposedly it was his wife, Clytemnestra and/or her lover.

interior palace floorplan

If it weren't for pictures, it would be hard to know what you were seeing!

In one of these rooms, was where the political, administrative, military and economic problems took place (in discussion with the King).

ruins of lower palace

The first palace was destroyed in the late 13th century, probably by earthquake and then (rather poorly) repaired.
The second palace was itself destroyed, this time with signs of fire.
Some rebuilding did occur and pottery finds suggest a degree of prosperity returned briefly before another fire ended occupation of the site until a brief revival in Hellenistic times. (323 BC to 31 BC)

re-building location

The gorge and cliffs next to the palace.

natural defences

Heading down now . . .

downward path

These were the artisans workshops.

artisan workshop ruins

The South gate

south gate

It is gated because I believe it is a straight shot down the gorge...not sure.
So wonder if a soldier sat here as a guard?
I decided it was where chamber pots were emptied...straight shot down to the gorge! Ha, ha~! Not much said about it.

One of the stones used for something else at one time, I think.

large stone with center hole

We are now at a cistern...
and next to it..

open cistern

...are steps to an underground cistern!

Outside the walls were springs from which water still gushes today. It was too difficult to channel it into the citadel because of the hard rock. So they made a decending entry through the walls and continued with a tunnel down the slope of the hill. (Not well explained, but it is hard to get the concept.)
Michael is keen to go down...not me!

steps to underground cistern

The underwater cistern tunnel is pitch dark, but that doesn’t stop the multitude of visitors who tread down the stairs gingerly with their cell phone flashlights.
At the bottom there is only a dry landing pad today.

So HOW did the ancients get down? With a flaming torch?

dry platform above cistern

We are now leaving the site by the North Gate which is a replica of the Lion Gate, but in miniature.
On the threshold and the lintel are sockets for the pivots of the two wooden door panels.

North gate

We are outside now, looking back at the gate.

outside North gate

Now for the LONG walk into the valley and back to the entrance where there is a Museum.

trail back to museum

Let's visit the museum...where we find items found at the site.
Outside all we see is rocks and ruins, while inside we can see that in it's heyday the citadel was full of colour -- and gold items.

mueum close-up

Wall paintings...and friezes.

frieze fragments

Pottery (chair)

clay chair, miniture


bowl with handles

A big amphora, which was used by the Mycenaeans for storage and transporting goods. (wine, oil, etc)

Karin in museum

I forgot to write down what these were used for...drinking wine?
They look like every day ware!

distinctive pottery

All found in graves.


The following are pictures in a book I bought...and are housed in the National Archaeology Museum in Athens.

A Mycenaean lady, part of a wall painting from the Chief Priest's House.

Mycenaean lady

Rock crystal 'sauce boat' found in a grave.

crystal from Mycenae

Cups of gold, found in graves.

gold cups

Goblet..note the detail of rosettes.

gold goblet

Gold diadem of fine sheet metal.
Found in grave.

gold diadem

Gold Seal found in a grave.

gold seal from grave

Pin and earrings found in grave.

pin and earrings

Head of a Rhyton...(a rhyton is a conical cone for drinking and has a fancy head).
So behind this head would have been a long shape to drink with and inside the head would have been where the liquid was.

bulls head with gold horns

A female head...found at the site.
So that was our visit to Mycenae. Lots more to see than I've shown, but this is an overview.

Maybe one day you will

Reminder: last few images are from Mycenae but displayed in Athens.

female head
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Our main page for Mycenae is HERE The citadel itself is HERE

Another photo journal: Epidavros 2019

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