Tuesday, 9th October, 2012.
We took the bus to Mycenae to see for ourselves the ancient city about fifteen miles north of Navplion. It was a fortified place for the ruling class who were the only ones to inhabit this hill top palace. Merchants and others like the baker lived just outside the city walls.
The palace complex was uncovered by archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1874. The Mycenaean palace was probably late Bronze Age which means it span the years 1700-1100 BC. It was abandoned in 1100 BC after a period of great disruption in the area.
The Lion Gate was erected in the 13th century BC with the walls to enclose the grave circle. They found six royal family shaft graves containing 19 bodies in the grave circle. The 31lb of gold goods found with them are now in the Athens museum.
The Royal Palace was situated at the acropolis’s summit but all that remains now is the floor. They believe burn marks dating to its destruction in 1200 BC are still visible on the stone. The palace area is thought to have contained an artist’s workshop along with the Megaron which was the social heart of the Palace.
We saw the secret stairway of 99 steps which drops to a cistern deep below the citadel. It is connected by pipes to an outside spring. The cistern was added to protect the water supply in times of siege. We find it fascinating how they can date all these happenings.
The Tombs of Mycenae were where mostly noblemen were buried. They were entombed in shaft graves like the Royals but in beehive tombs. The tombs were found outside the palace walls and were built using circles of masonry with each level nudged steadily inward to narrow the diameter until the top could be closed with a single stone. The entire structure was then buried except for an open air corridor to the entrance. In the Treasury of Atreus a king was buried with his weapons and enough food and drink for his journey through to the underworld. The Tomb dates from the 14th century BC and is only one of two double chambered tombs in Greece. It has a 120 feet ceiling with a small second chamber which held the bones from previous burials. A 30 feet long lintel stone stands over the entrance weighing about 120 tonnes but it is still not known how it was hoisted into place but is attributed to Mycenaean building skills. Luckily, we were told to take a torch as it is completely black inside the Treasury of Atreus second chamber.
The Curse of Atreus is a story which is told. King Atreus slaughtered his brother Thyestes’s children and fed them to him and for this outrage the gods laid a curse on Atreus and his descendants. Thyestes’s surviving daughter, Pelopia, bore her own father a son, Aigisthos, who murdered Atreus and restored Thyestes to the throne of Mycenae. But Atreus also had an heir who was Agamemnon who seized power.
Agamemnon raised a fleet to punish the Trojan Paris who had stolen his brother’s wife, Helen. He sacrificed his daughter to obtain a favourable wind. When he returned he was murdered by his wife Klytemnestra and her lover Aigisthos. The murderous pair were disposed of by Agamemnon’s children Orestes and Elektra. Nice story!
The museum houses a fabulous collection of pots, cups, jewellery and reproduction gold masts (the real ones are in the Athens museum).
We saw for the first time a little bird called a Rock Nuthatch which inhabits Greece but is also found in Iran and Iraq where the markings are more grey than brown.
The bus luckily arrived on time and we were back in Navplion an hour later. We did have concerns as it was a good 15 miles in the mountains miles from anywhere!