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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 tothis article, the royal buried here would have ruled at an earlier date than Agamemnon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Here’s a listing of the various collections within the museum:
vases and minor arts
Cypriot antiquities (those from the island of Cyprus).
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.
His expression compelled me to stop and linger at the display in 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?
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.
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.
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.
Their generosity and hospitality were incredible… above and beyond! They have definitely mastered the art of what AirBnB calls “the extra touches.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.