Categories
Greece (Peloponnese) Uncategorized

Visit Mycenae: Feel the quiet power of the Lion Gate

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No, this isn’t our photo, but we did take the next one below. The photo above, however, shows more of the famous Lion Gate at Mycenae. Credit: Andreas Trepte [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D

What you can expect to see at Mycenae

Ask an art historian about Mycenae and they will likely mention the Lion Gate, the monumental sculptures carved at the entrance to the citadel at the Mycenaean acropolis.  While the Mycenaean civilization they guarded through the millennia was buried and ravaged by time and destruction, the lions remained quietly standing, sentinels that protected the inhabitants within.

Today, Mycenae is still a protected site. Mycenae and the nearby Tyrins were inscribed upon the UNESCO World Heritage Liston December 4, 1999.

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According to a placard at the entrance to the site, “Inscription on this list confirms the outstanding universal value of a cultural or natural property which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity. The two most important centers of the Mycenaean culture dominated the Eastern Mediterranean from the 15th to the 12th centuries B.C. and played a vital role in the development of the culture of Classical Greece.  The two citadels are indissolubly linked with the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, that affected European art and literature for more than three millennia.”

 

This isn’t the first post I’ve written about Mycenae. My first post was written on the road during  the middle of our cross-country six-week Greek odyssey last summer. That post was much more concise; it included a handful of photos, but nowhere near the number of photos in this post.

Enjoy these photos and if you have a visit to Mycenae in your future or if you’ve been there already, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Tickets are 12€ each and include entrance to the archaeological site, the museum and the Treasury of Atreus.

After purchasing your ticket, you’ll walk on grounds that surround the hillside below the citadel on the acropolis, the uppermost part of the site. Beehive tombs and other city structures can be seen around you.

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The latest “funerary monument” beehive tomb is on the hillside below the acropolis. It was discovered by chance by villagers during the time of Ottoman rule.
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The same tomb… just a little closer.
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And closer still. Here, I’m standing in the doorway where apparently some scaffolding is used to bolster the heavy stones. My husband, Mitch, is standing along the far wall, to show the size of the tomb.
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And… looking up at the ceiling of the beehive tomb.
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Outside the tomb, you can see theater seating (circled above in red) put in place by Greeks in Hellenistic times.

And another tomb…

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Another beehive tomb we encountered on our way up to the acropolis.
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I took this shot inside the tomb. The stonework is unbelievable.
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Get a load of those lintels above!
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Here’s a shot looking straight up at the underside of those mammoth lintel stones.

 

 

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There’s more than one acropolis in Greece. This is the acropolis –the highest place — at Mycenae. It is also referred to as the citadel and was the home of the palace, House of Columns, grave circles, and other structures. If you tap the photo and zoom in you can see tiny figures walking along the very uppermost edge. The walking tour takes you from the edge of this parking lot up to the various sights on the acropolis and the surrounding hillsides.
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This is Grave Circle A, part of “an extensive cemetery” at Mycenae, according to a placard at the spot. “It was used exclusively for royal burials during the 1500s BC. The shafts, which you can walk down (see below), were near graves that held the bodies of royal family members and grave goods. Those goods can be found at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Here’s my post on that museum.
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This circular enclosure was an updated feature added to enhance the royal burial ground. When was the updating done? 1250 BC.
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A view from the citadel at the acropolis. The hillside is filled with myriad structures, foundations, and remains.  According to a nearby placard, most of the ruins visible today date to the 13th century B.C., but there is evidence that use of the site began in the Early Helladic period (3000-2000 BC.) 
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This is another photo from the citadel. Some of the structures on the acropolis include a large court complete with porticoes and antechamber, and the megaron, a political hub with administrative and military functions.
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We marveled at the size of this lintel piece on the citadel. 

There’s much more on the acropolis at Mycenae. Click here to see my other post about Mycenae that includes more photos from the top, including the House of Columns.

But for now, on to the museum…

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The sign at the entrance  to the museum reads in Greek “Archaeological Museum Mykines,” which English speakers say Mycenae.
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The cup looks very contemporary; however, it was made from 1350-1300 BC. The deep bowl in the back was made 1250-1150 BC.
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This ivory Mycenaean sculpture was made between 1250-1180 BC. It stands between only 3-4″ h. Read this post for more information about this little number.
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These “anthropomorphic figure” sculptures captivated me. I still am surprised at how contemporary the expressions and poses appear. These were made about 3,200 years ago… 1250-1180 BC! Simply stunning. 
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This anthropomorphic figure appears at the far right in the photo above.
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The spiral motif is timeless. This stairstep was decorated with a repeating pattern. 1450-1350 BC.
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A variety of personal items were excavated from the sites at Mycenae. These combs are dated 1300-1180 BC. The colorful faience and glass necklace at left? 1400-1040 BC.
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This large storage jar is overwhelming in its size. 

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This photo, found on Creative Commons, shows the back side of the museum. When you visit the museum, you enter on the opposite side and and unable to see the various levels of the museum that descend down the mountain slope. Photo Credit: George E. Koronaios [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
After touring the museum, we decided to leave the main site and walk back down the highway to bring our Mycenaean odyssey to a close. The sun was out in full force and we felt the pull of a mid-afternoon nap in our comfortable AirBnB. Here’s a post about our wonderful hosts.

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By the time we left, the crowds were increasing. Even so, the park wasn’t especially crowded. No lines. No waiting. No hassle.

But before that, we knew we wanted to check out the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the  Tomb of Agamemnon. One arrives at it when you head back down the highway toward the town of Mycenae. We had noticed it on our way up earlier that morning.

The Treasury of Atreus isn’t an afterthought… it’s a must-see.

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Just outside the main site, your ticket will allow you into the Treasury of Atreus. Here, you’ll find a guard station, a park bench or two under some pine trees, and, if I remember correctly, a vending machine. There are no facilities. 

But why is it called a treasury?

It’s called a treasury — and not a tomb — because treasures were placed inside to commemorate the ruler buried within.

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This is the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon. It’s a large “tholos,” or beehive tomb on Panagitsa Hill at Mycenae. It was built in 1250 BC.

Just so you know…

The Treasury of Atreus has no real connection to Agamemnon. The Mycenae archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann named it thus and the popular name persisted. According to this article, the royal buried here would have ruled at an earlier date than Agamemnon.

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I took this picture looking back from the entrance to the Treasury of Atreus.
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That lintel above the entrance to the tomb weighs 120 tons!
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This is a more accurate picture of the inside of the Treasury of Atreus. It’s dark inside… and nice and cool, too.
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We walked along an asphalt highway up to the Mycenae Archaeological Site. It was a sunny and breezy day. 

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay about Mycenae. It’s a lonely yet so important archaeological site.

Greece, including the Peloponnese region (that part of Greece connected to the mainland by the land bridge at Corinth), offers a plethora of ancient sites. It’s truly difficult to visit them all. In fact, we already are making a list for sites to see when we return someday.

But in the meantime, if Greece is in your future, make time for Mycenae.


Thanks for reading! Make sure to leave a comment or share a thought about this post or to share news about your own visit to Greece. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. 

 

Categories
Art Greece (Athens, Delphi)

The Zeus of Greek museums: Our visit to The National Archaeological Museum of Athens

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Bronze sculpture of Zeus (or Poseidon) in the Severe style, 460 BC.

From golden goblets to frying pans to perfume

On our next to last day in Greece last summer, we capped off our Greek museum tour with a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. It was the last museum we would see, having already visited other museums in Athens (The Acropolis Museum), Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia, and Heraklion. You would think that we would have been “museumed out,” but actually each museum is so unique to its location that each one feels quite different from the others.

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So what sets the National Archaeological Museum in Athens apart from the others? In a word, I would say “breadth.” In fact, you will find the widest gamut of Greek artifacts and art. This museum has pieces from all those other areas we had visited across the country, in addition to hundreds (possibly thousands) more.

By the way, here’s a list with links to posts I’ve written about the other museums we visited in Greece:

For example, when we visited the Museum of Mycenae, the golden Mask of Agamemnon that was discovered in a grave circle there, was not held in that museum.

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The original Mask of Agamemnon is in Athens; a replica is in Mycenae. Photo: Wikipedia

The mask on exhibit in Mycenae is a replica,  a guard told me. The original could be found in the National Museum in Athens, he added. Upon hearing this, we made a mental note to seek out the mask when we would eventually tour the National.

Watch this video from Khan Academy for more about this mask.

When one visits a museum in Greece, you truly feel that you are in the hub of antiquity. Each museum is an art historian’s dream;  art history students will also be amazed at seeing in person so many famous works commonly found in textbooks.

This description of the National Museum can be found on the museum’s website:

“The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece and one of the most important in the world. Originally destined to receive all the 19th century excavations, mainly from Attica and other parts of the country, it gradually took the form of a central National Archaeological Museum and was enriched with finds from all parts of the Greek world. The rich collections, enumerating more than 11,000 exhibits, offer the visitor a panorama of ancient Greek culture from the prehistory to the late antiquity.”

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We saw Cycladic non-stick frying pans that date from 2800-2300 BC.
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These Cycladic frying pans really captured my interest since they resemble modern day frying pans.

Here’s a listing of the various collections within the museum:

  • prehistoric antiquities
  • sculpture
  • metalwork
  • vases and minor arts
  • Egyptian antiquities
  • Cypriot antiquities (those from the island of Cyprus).
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Ancient Greek Cauldrons
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Fragments of a fresco from Knossos Palace in Heraklion on the island of Crete. This is an image of a “figure 8 shield” covered in animal hide.
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Part of the museum’s collection of gold artifacts. These are from Mycenae’s Grave Circle A, where many tombs of the wealthy were found. The pieces are found in the shapes of cocoons (a symbol of rebirth), pomegranates (a symbol bounty), and butterflies.
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These golden goblets, known as the Vaphio Cups, are finely detailed and depict bulls.
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Egyptian artifacts proves trade between the early Greeks and Egyptians. The Greeks learn some of their quarrying techniques from the Egyptians. In addition, archaic kouros poses were borrowed from the ancient Egyptians.
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Part of a temporary exhibit, “The Countless Aspects of Beauty.”
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Vials of perfumes to sniff in the “Countless Aspects of Beauty” exhibit.
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These amphoras (pedestal vases) were awarded at Panathenaia, an important festival held in honor of Athena in Athens.
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Close-up of an amphora.
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Members of the Roman Julio Claudian Dynasty (31 BC-68AD). During this period, Greece was a Roman province.

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Renowned bronze of Zeus or Poseidon found on the Cape of Artemision, in northern Euboea near Athens.
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This Zeus, in the Severe style, also known as the Early Classical style, “marks the breakdown of the canonical forms of archaic art and the transition to the greatly expanded vocabulary and expression of the classical moment of the late 5th century,” according to this Wikipedia article. Works in the Severe style show a change in drapery of clothing.

 

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The Severe Style more accurately represents the human body. Also, Severe style works have an “interest in emotion and motion.” As for emotion, figures reveal a more serious character and expression.  As for motion, figures are under strain or in action, but always in motion.
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Here’s an example from the museum of an early Cycladic figure that shows the contrast of earlier artwork to later pieces of the Severe style.
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Close-up of the youth Perseus or Paris. Also of the Severe style, this is a good example of how artists commonly used bronze to produce their sculptures.

Visiting the National Museum in Athens was our final stop of our five-week Greek odyssey. We left Athens at 6 a.m. the next morning, for a short layover in Amsterdam, and then Atlanta, and then finally to our home airport in Springfield, Mo.


Thanks for reading again about our travels in Greece this past summer! Now that we’ve both started new jobs and are in the full swing of new school years, this trip seems like a lifetime ago. However, there are still posts to be written, and I’ll get to those eventually. My next one will likely be about the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which I was able to see briefly during my week-long stay there in June. 

Now that the year is beginning to wind down, I also hope to write soon about “2019… My Year of Living Changerously” and how I managed to stay buckled up and on the tracks.

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese)

A great man is always willing to be little

His expression compelled me to stop and linger at the display in Mycenae.

 

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This ivory sculpture is in the collection of artifacts at The Archaeological Museum of Mycenae

 

Only three to four inches in height, this ivory Mycenaean sculpture does not overwhelm with its size or weight, but with its expression. Made between 1250-1180 B.C. this “Ivory Male Head Figure” was excavated in the ruins of Mycenae (Mykines) in the Peloponnese region of Greece.

We saw a staggering number—thousands?—of artifacts this past summer; however, this little number above is still my favorite.

To realize it was conceived and shaped by human hands so very long ago is a lesson in humility.

Of what use  is our modern technology?

Of what purposes are our conveniences?

Of what skills can we boast in light of this quiet gem?


On May 29, my husband and I journeyed to Greece for about five weeks. Three weeks were spent on Skopelos, one of the three islands in the Sporades east of the mainland. The remaining two were spent venturing from Mycenae to Delphi to Olympia and finally Heraklion on the island of Crete to tour the sites at Knossos and Phaistos. Athens formed the bookends of our Greek odyssey. 

I posted daily for much of the trip, but still have so much more to tell. Follow my blog and stay tuned.

Acknowledgement: “A great man is always willing to be little.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese)

Meet our AirBnB hosts: Kostas and Toula

Our fabulous hosts at Mycenae

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Mitch, Toula, Kostas and me

AirBnb offers something that a traditional hotel doesn’t: contact with local residents. We met Kostas and Toula on our first night in Mycenae after three weeks on Skopelos Island.

That day, we had ferried to Skiathos Island, flown for 25 minutes to Athens, then taken a bus to Athens’ KTEL terminal, and finally taken a 1.5-hour bus ride to Fichti, which is just down the road from Mycenae.

Kostas was waiting for us under an olive tree in Fichti. When the bus stopped, the driver made no announcement and there were no signs indicating we were at our destination. Mitch decided to ask the driver where exactly we were and when the driver replied, “Fichti,” Mitch scurried to get our luggage from the hold. At that point, I realized that Mitch was not coming back. (He told me later he thought iI was right behind him.)

So I quickly grabbed my purse and hurried off the bus.

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Our AirBnb at Kostas’. We climbed up that spiral staircase to our door.

Kostas was expecting us to be arriving on this particular bus. I had been in contact as our plans unfolded throughout the day with his daughter Sophia, and she had kept him in the loop.

However, since we had booked our Airbnb under my name, when Mitch climbed down from the bus first, Kostas asked him, “Marilyn?”

But then Kostas saw me climb down, realized that Mitch was not Marilyn and we made our introductions.

Kostas was so friendly. He talked the whole drive back to our apartment. He told us about his daughter and son, who currently lives in Canada. In fact, Kostas lived in Canada at one time for several years, which explains why we were able to communicate so well. He struggled with finding words at times, but overall his English is excellent considering he is a native Greek and nearing retirement age.

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The sign on the outskirts of town showing the way to the ruins.

When we reached the little town of Mycenae, where our apartment was located, Kostas pointed out the mini-market and two or three tavernas, which we visited the next day.

Inside our apartment, Kostas and Toula showed us around the one-bedroom apartment. It had a nice living room, large eat-in kitchen, full bath, and plenty of seating with an extra couch tucked here and there. There was WiFi, air conditioning, a washer, and a large tile front balcony with clothesline.

They also took great pride to show us the fridge, which they had stocked with six eggs, a small carton of milk, local honey, a loaf of bread and toasts, apples, oranges and apricots. Kostas also showed us a bottle of olive oil fresh from his groves. (He farms olives and oranges, he told us.) We used the olive oil to cook eggs for breakfast the next two mornings. They also provided instant and Greek coffee, which we made on a single-burner stove.

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Kostas and Toula kept lots of games in the apartment. Here are Greek Scrabble pieces.

Their generosity and hospitality were incredible… above and beyond! They have definitely mastered the art of what AirBnB calls “the extra touches.”

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The view off the side of our front porch balcony. Those are apricots in that truck. Olive trees in the distance… and right by the truck also.

The next evening, we visited with the couple again when we inquired about how to get a taxi back to Fichti. We visited inside their apartment, which was located on the ground level of their three-story building. Over small porcelain cups of Greek coffee, water, and fresh apricots, Kostas offered to drive us back the next morning, as he and Toula were making a trip to “the big city” of Argos.

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The view off one side of our front porch balcony.

We also met their sweet little Chihuahua-mix dog, Kirra, who sat on my lap and stared deep into my eyes. She is very old, Kostas said, which you could tell from her fully gray nose and jowls. She rolled over on her back in my lap as we talked.

Toula, who speaks as much English as I speak Greek, multi-tasked all the while. (Several times, Kostas would stop the conversation and translate to Toulah.) She kept her eyes on a TV program, and occasionally listened in our conversation about Kostas’ and our kids, job prospects in Greece for young people (there aren’t many, he said), the cycle of world superpowers, and how Greece needs the help of larger countries to succeed.

 

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The highway between Fichti and Mycenae was quiet at night. Earlier in the day, tour buses from Argos drive through. It seems that maybe Argos gets most of the tourist business.

Kostas also told us that it had been several years since he had been up the hill to the Mycenaean ruins. In fact, when he had been there before, he had been working there. “They charge too much to see it,” he said. “They think they are the United States and charge a lot for it.”

We explained that the 12€ tickets didn’t seem that high to us, but then again the culture of Ancient and Classical Greece is revered perhaps more when you don’t grow up around it. To us, it’s an amazing site. Perhaps to Kostas, it’s just a bunch of old rocks.

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I had chicken souvlaki and Mitch had pork souvlaki.  Both were served with french fries. We also had tzatziki as an appetizer. The weather was beautiful. Taverna owners and/or waiters walk right up to you on the sidewalk asking you to dine at their establishment.

We then made arrangements to meet outside the apartment at 9:30 the next morning for the drive back to the Fichti bus station. Kostas also said he would help us buy our bus tickets back to Athens.

As promised, we all met the next morning… fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.

The four of us made the ten-minute drive back to Fichti. We unloaded our luggage, then I sat with it under a tree while Mitch and Kostas walked across the street to get the tickets. Toula waited in the car. After a few minutes, she emerged from the car, and we hugged, kissed cheeks European style, and said, “Thank you,” to each other. Soon, Kostas and Mitch emerged from the bus station with tickets in hand.

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The Fichti (say “Fith-ya”) bus station, about ten minutes north of Mycenae

Of course, Kostas absolutely would not accept the 20€ Mitch tried to hand him, waving his arms and stepping back when it was offered. So, while Kostas and I hugged, Mitch tossed the bill onto his car seat. With her limited English, Toula couldn’t refuse it.

We took our seats under the tree, and turned to wave goodbye to our hosts. Kostas, now finding the bill, shook his head. “I don’t want it,” he said.

“Goodbye!” we shouted. He continued to shake his head.

“We would have spent it anyway for a taxi. You take it,” Mitch explained.

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This Greek Orthodox church is right around the corner from Kostas’ and Toula’s place.

Kostas finally conceded, smiled, and pulled away. “It’s been good to meet you,” he said.

“It was good to meet you, too,” we replied.


Thanks for reading! We’re on our way to Olympia today from Delphi. At least two bus station transfers, we think, but we’ll have to confirm with the driver. The bus station in Delphi is actually inside a restaurant. You just ask one of the waiters and he instantly turns into a ticket clerk.

Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for more stories from our trip to Greece.

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese)

Marry an artist and then go to Mycenae

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Mitch and I at the Lion Gate, the spectacular entrance to the Citadel at Mycenae

Here’s another perk of being married to an artist

A few days ago, I posted on Instagram about how one of the perks of being married to an artist is that you can tag along with them when they serve an artist residency in Greece.

Image-1Well, if you need another reason to marry an artist, here it is:

You have a built-in tour guide for all things artistic: museums, historical sights, and exhibitions. 

Today, I fully realized the benefits of being married to an artist while walking the grounds of Mycenae. Not having studied these incredible ruins for a degree in journalism and teaching, I really didn’t understand much of what I was seeing.

However, walking around with my husband, I gained a glimmer of understanding about the culture that preceded classical Greece and influenced western art, architecture, and philosophy.

Mitch was able to tell me that: the Lion Gate that leads to the Citadel at Mycenae is important because it shows a monumental post and lintel entry point. Another reason: those lions throughout history never became buried or destroyed. Always visible down through the ages, they created a landmark for historical study that continues in current times.

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A closer shot of the Lion Gate.

The Lion Gate structure, like all of Mycenae, was built  from 1600-1300 BC. When you wrap your head around that date, these ancient ruins— some of them today merely stubs of stone outcroppings and faint traces of walls and foundations–are indeed spectacular.

Many times today, I found myself asking things like:

  • “How in the world were they able to hoist that huge stone all the way up there?” 
  • “And why did they need that large of a stone in the first place?”

My husband Mitch is also able to tell me about the triangular openings above many entries. These triangular openings displaced the weight from above so the weight didn’t rest directly on the lintel. We saw several of these triangular openings on beehive-shaped tombs. Imagine how many failures were experienced over the years in order for the Mycenaens to learn and then apply this engineering principle in the surviving structures we admire today.

This was taken inside the Treasury of Atreus or the Tomb of Agamemnon. It’s mammoth. In fact, it’s the largest of the nine similar tombs at Mycenae.

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That’s one BIG stone above the doorway. See how it curves?
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See how that curved stone is actually bigger than it looks? You walk under it a good bit when you enter the tomb.

Another example of my husband’s knowledge that comes in handy when you go to places like Greece: Back in Athens, inside the Propylaea, the entrance to the Acropolis, one could easily walk under the ornate “ceiling,” never pausing to consider the enormous stones above.

In the next photo of the Propylaea in Athens, see the large horizontal pieces, some of which have new and whiter marble replacement pieces? Now see those stones in between those horizontal pieces? Those are separate stones placed over the horizontal beams.  Stone on stone on stone. Truly incredible.

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Ceiling of the Propylea at the Acropolis in Athens a few weeks ago.

But let’s return to today’s Mycenae visit.

Here’s I am again walking under a lintel that spans the posts, transferring the weight to the posts. Maybe this is common knowledge to you, but it’s new to me and fun to hear about from my husband.

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Post and lintel doorway at the Citadel

Another spot I saw today: the House of Columns at the Citadel at Mycenae. Notice the large stone in the front of the picture? Now see how there are four more behind it spaced regularly? Those used to be columns. Amazing.

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The House of Columns at Mycenae
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Quick summary of the importance of Mycenae

We walked the mile or so up the road to Mycenae from our AirBnB. It was a breezy, sunny day and warm, but not too warm. It was actually a nice walk full of oleander and olive trees.

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We started out here at our AirBnb. Yesterday was a long day. We arrived here last night after leaving Skopelos, ferrying to Skiathos, flying to Athens, and taking a bus to Fichti, where our host met us at the bus stop before driving us to Mycenae (spelled Mikines in Greece using English alphabet).

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Our AirBnb in Mycenae

 

Tomorrow, we head to Delphi, where Mitch will get to play tour guide again. What a perk for me!


Thanks for reading! Catch tomorrow’s post by following my blog. Ever been to the Peloponnese? Leave a comment about your experience.