“Mycenae rich in gold”
So wrote (or sang) Homer about Mycenae, as he told the story of the conflict between the ancient Greeks and Trojans. Who has not heard of the exploits of Achilles, or the Wooden Horse of Troy?
And the leader of the Greeks, King Agamemnon, was king of Mycenae. He led the Greeks in their ten year conflict against Troy. Out of that came Odysseus, giving us the wonderful tale of his adventures as he tried to return home to Ithica, where his wife and son waited for him.
A visit to this site can produce a variety of responses. For those who are just visiting as part of a tour, and looking forward to their lunch at the nearest taverna, the place might be a bit of a disappointment. Some never make it to the top of the citadel.
But for anyone captivated by the stories of Homer, and for whom the older a site is the more their imagination is fired up, Mycenae is a magical place. To stand by the graves of kings from over 3400 years ago, to gaze over the rolling hills of Argos from the megaron where warriors of old once gathered, well, lunch at the taverna can wait!
Truth stranger than fiction – a German fairy tale
Homer’s stories were just that. Stories. Or so everyone said. But a young German named Heinrich Schliemann didn’t believe them. He was captivated by the Homeric tales. He set up a grocery business, made a fortune, and decided to take Homer and Pausanias at their word.
So he put his money where his mouth was, went to the western coast of Turkey and in 1874 dug up what he believed was Troy. And he was right. Not only that, he discovered treasure, gold jewelry and other objects.
Newspapers loved it, and Schliemann became world famous. Now, he didn’t get everything right. He thought he’d discovered the Troy of King Priam. His finds were actually earlier than that. (In fact, it was an amateur archaeologist who told Schliemann where to dig, but his name somehow was forgotten in all the excitement…)
But he didn’t stop there. If Troy was an actual place, what about Mycenae? So off he went to Greece, and started to excavate. And it didn’t take long for him to find a circle of royal tombs just inside the city walls. This time he found gold death masks, ladies’ jewelry, gold breast plates, necklaces and bracelets (you can see them in the National Museum in Athens).
Regarding the death mask, Schliemann is reputed to have said, “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon!”
But once again he was premature, as it turned out his finds predated the time of Agamemnon.
The main part of Mycenae is known as the citadel, or acropolis. The entrance to this is by the famous Lion Gate. Immediately on the right are the grave circles. A path leads up to the Palace area, where you can still see the supports for the pillars of the magaron, the main royal room.
As you leave by the Lion Gate the beehive tombs of Aigisthos and Clytemnestra are on your left. The tomb of Clytemnestra is worth a look, but the best preserved tomb is further on down the road, the Tomb of Agamemnon, otherwise known as the Treasury of Atreus. (Both these name are for reference only – no one can prove either of them had anything to do with the structure.)
If you’re on an organized tour you may have to make request to stop at Tiryns. If you’ve hired a car then stop anyway. It’s well worth a look.
Tiryns was one of the most important centers in the Bronze Age. The thick defensive walls are most impressive.
For a map and some travel information go to the Mycenae Greece map page.