My My My Mycenae

We seem to be continually traveling backwards in time on this trip. Yesterday, after the Corinth Canal, we visited the ruins of Mycenae, the capital of the Greek Mycenaean Civilization.

The citadel of Mycenae was constructed in the mountains of the Peloponnese in phases, beginning in 1350 B.C. and ending around 1200 B.C. The Mycenaeans became the great power in the Mediterranean after the demise of the Minoans of Crete (our destination next week), until Mycenae was invaded and burned by the Dorians around 1100 B.C.

We know about Mycenae because of Brad Pitt.

Why is that, you ask? Well, because he was the lead in the epic movie, “Troy,” that we watched just before leaving Florida to begin this trip. Pitt played the famous Greek warrior, Achilles, whose nemesis was Agamemnon, King of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus. I’ll tell you their story in a minute, but for now, let’s get back to the ruins of Mycenae which scholars believe was Agamemnon’s royal palace. Here’s the entry, called the Lion’s Gate:

You can see the reliefs of two lions (missing their heads) above Kelly and Dale. The relief is carved in a limestone triangle, but the arch is composed of a harder and heavier stone – those three stones you see, the two supports and the lintel, weigh 20 tons each!

Once through the Lions Gate, we passed one of the grave circles that contained the tombs of the Mycenaean royalty. We had stopped in the on-site museum on our way up to the Lions Gate and had read that this is where Agamemnon’s death mask was found – the one that we saw in the museum was a copy, here it is:

Here’s the grave circle where the death mask was found:

Only royalty and the upper crust actually lived within the walls of Mycenae and it is supposed that there was a large habitation of the common folk outside the city walls. At any rate, the Palace, while mostly gone now, had commanding views from its perch on top of the hill:

We walked around the entire complex, then found the staircase to the underground cistern on the far side of the hill.

I had read that with a flashlight it was possible to walk the steps all the way to the bottom, 60 feet below the surface. We didn’t have a flashlight with us, but we did have our iPhones. I turned on my iPhone video camera flash and used it like a flashlight and down we went, all the way. It was cool down there, probably about 65° F.

After the cistern, we found the North Gate:

But we exited back through the Lions Gate, then passed below the outer wall, rumored to have been built by the mythical Cyclops, due to the size and weight of the stones.

Downhill from the citadel, we stopped to visit the Treasury of Atreus, which some scholars believe was Agamemnon’s Tomb, constructed at the same time as the Lions Gate in 1250 B.C., not long after the Trojan War.

Let’s return to Menelaus and his wife. She was the famous “Helen of Troy,” whose face launched a thousand ships, 100 of which were sent by Menelaus’ brother, King Agamemnon. The trigger to this Mycenaean invasion of Troy was that Paris, the son of the Trojan king, had made off with Helen and Menelaus wanted her back. Agamemnon probably didn’t give a hoot about Helen, but he was looking for an excuse to attack Troy, so off went the invasion force. The whole sordid affair was turned into the epic poem, The Iliad, by Homer, but the Trojan horse story wasn’t in that account and may have been a myth, but it sure made for some cool special effects in the movie.

Anyway, in the movie everybody of significance gets killed, except Agamemnon. According to the pamphlet at the museum in Mycenae, Agamemnon returned, victorious, to his palace in Mycenae where he was promptly murdered by his philandering wife’s lover. And, the great tomb was built for him – the Treasury of Atreus. The Great Beehive is what I’d call it. Here’s the entrance:

Take a look at that giant foundation stone on the right. How did they get that thing here?. Here’s a close-up:

The entry was very impressive:

Inside, the apex of the roof was 40 feet high, the entire structure having the shape of a beehive.

On the way back to the car, I couldn’t resist taking this picture of my two dates for the day framed by Oleander.

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