Situated near the site of Mycenae, Tiryns is a cyclopean fortress on a low hill in the centre of the Argolid plain. Many organized tour companies ignore it, preferring only to visit Mycenae. It’s not in such a magnificent setting as Mycenae, but it’s a well preserved example of ancient military architecture, and well worth a visit. Its importance has been recognized by UNESCO, because in 1999 it was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As with all ancient sites, take care as you walk around Tiryns. You’re free to go almost anywhere, but take care you don’t fall off anything. And be especially careful if you have children with you.
Excavations show that the hill was inhabited from at least 2500 BC. A circular structure has been found which is thought to have been a palace.
The acropolis at Tiryns was built in three stages. The first was in 1400 BC when the palace was built on the highest part of the hill. During the second stage 1300 – 1250 BC a cyclopean wall was constructed to protect the central section. Between 1250 and 1200 BC the walls were extended to provide protection for the whole site.
The Great Gate
The entrance to the Acropolis of Tiryns consists of a large gateway. The size of this, together with the method of construction, have led archaeologists to suggest it was built at the same time and by the same architect who built the Lion Gate at Mycenae.
Unfortunately much of the stonework has not survived, but you can still get a good impression of the scale of the gateway from the remaining supports. From the marks in the stone, it has been calculated that the wooden door which hung in the gateway was about 15cms (6 inches) thick.
The ramparts of Tiryns are very impressive. They are 7 – 10m wide (23 – 33 feet) and in some places are 7.5m (25 feet) high.
The Palace area
The door to the palace area had a large stone threshold. There are holes for the door hinges, and marks where the socket for the wooden bar which would have held the door closed.
In the area known as the East Casemates you’ll find a narrow gallery, about 30m (99 feet) long. It has a vaulted roof, and was built within the width of the ramparts. Leading off the gallery are six rooms (casemates) which are thought to have been used as stores or barrack rooms.
It’s not easy to make out the site of the Great Propylaia, but archaeologists think it’s important because the Propylaia on the Acropolis at Athens was designed on the same lines. The Propylaia leads into the great court of the palace. From there you go down a staircase to the South Casemates which are similar to those in the east of the site.
The Megaron at Tiryns is the best preserved of all the palaces. It’s portico had two columns and the walls were decorated with seven slabs of alabaster. These were decorated with reliefs of rosettes and lapis lazuli.
The Megaron itself was the most important room in the palace. As at Mycenae, there was a central hearth with four pillars to support the roof. The floor was plastered, and decorated with painted squares which imitated carpets. Designs included sea creatures such as octopus and dolphins. The walls were covered with paintings of hunting, ladies on a wagon drawn by horses, courtly ladies dressed in rich clothes, and wild animals. The dominant scene was that of a royal hunt.
Among the royal rooms is a bathroom, where the highly polished stone floor has holes drilled into it for drainage.
Incidentally, Nafplio is my favourite town in this part of Greece. The central square has a number of good tavernas and restaurants. Down by the sea there’s an attractive walk around the headland. It also has a fort which overlooks the town.
Well worth a visit, and also a good place to use as a base to visit the surrounding area.
From the histories which have come down to us we know that it was possible in ancient times to see much further than is possible today, with all our atmospheric pollution. But on good days you can still get wonderful views from Tiryns. These include Argos and the Argolid, Mycenae, Nauplion and the bay.