The Mycenaean civilization (1650-1100 BC) is one of the most sumptuous periods of prehistoric Greece and with its monuments and history is a pole of attraction for everyone. The acropolis of Mycenae is in the Argolis plain in a highly strategic position. Archeological findings corroborate the view that this area was inhabited as early as the Neolithic period and most of the extant monuments belong to the Late Bronze era (1350-1200 BC), which was the thriving period of the Mycenaean civilization. Almost 80 years after the fall of Troy, the city was destroyed by the Dorians and in 468 BC by the Argeians. That was the end for the Mycenaean civilization.
Its longstanding history came to light through Homer’s stories which, for a long period of time, were considered as fictional. Yet, a rich German merchant, Heinrich Schliemann, changed this view when he started the excavations in 1876 and discovered incredible monuments. An important breakthrough was also the deciphering of Linear B, a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, by Ventris and Chadwick in 1952. This actually attested the earliest form of Greek, thus confirming the hellenicity of the Mycenaean civilization.
The legend about Mycenae is that Perseus, son of Zeus and Danae, was the founder of the city. There are two versions about the naming of the city. Either it took its name from the mushroom-shaped pommel of Perseus’ sword or the local mushroom (mykes) he used as a cup to drink water on the site where Perseia spring spontaneously appeared.
The legend says that the family of Perseus reigned for three generations; the last one was Eurystheus who, barren, left no heir to the throne, so the Perseid dynasty eclipsed. Then, Atreus became king of Mycenae, the son of Pelops and father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, founder of the Atreid dynasty.
The excavations that started at the end of the 19th century and are still ongoing have brought to light important findings which confirm the wealth and the splendor of the Mycenaean civilization.
The most important monuments are:
- The Tomb of Agamemnon. It is carved into the Panagitsa hill and it is dated circa 1250 BC. You can access it through a corridor 36m long by 6m wide and the entrance is 10.50m high. The façade was richly decorated with half-columns in green limestone. Above the entrance door, 4.50m height, boasts the famous “corbel arch”, a top constructive invention of the Mycenaeans and a milestone in the history of architecture.
- The Lion Gate. It is considered the first example of monumental sculpture in European ground and it is dated circa 1250 BC. The Gate consists of two great monoliths capped with a huge lintel which weighs 20 tons. Above the lintel there is a corbel arch, a relieving triangle that is, decorated with two confronted lionesses. Their heads are missing and are thought to be turned towards the entrance path of the acropolis. Between them there is a column and the lionesses rest their front legs on an altar-like platform. The lionesses and the column might have symbolized the power of the Mycenaeans in the Greek world, as well as the omnipotence of the Mycenaean monarch.
Religion was an important aspect of the Mycenaean civilization, for which our knowledge is quite limited. To the southwest of the acropolis there was a compound of religious buildings dated from the end of the 14th century BC until the middle of the 13th century BC.
The palace boasted on the top of the acropolis was surrounded by other buildings in three different levels. In the first level there were two rooms; the first one had seats and an altar where it is presumed that religious rites had been taking place. The second room might have been an adyton (a restricted area). A workroom was on the second level, which comprised an antechamber, a main room and one smaller. Three wooden columns, seats and a podium were found in the temple. Finally, in the third level, the House Tsounta comprises three subterranean rooms, a ground floor, a main room and a smaller one. In these buildings many statuettes and other objects of cult were found and are displayed in the museum of Mycenae.
We must also mention the Grave Circles A and B, which were discovered inside and outside the fortification walls of Mycenae.
- Grave Circle A. It was the royal cemetery of the early kings dated in the 16th century. It comprised six rectangular shaft graves within which Schliemann discovered 19 skeletons of men and women (among these two babies) covered in gold (14 kg). In addition to the gold death masks, the breastplates and the greaves, the treasure (displayed in the national archeological museum of Athens) includes jewelry, goblets, weapons and objects of cult, all of incalculable artistic value. The advanced dating methods used for the skeletons and the above mentioned objects have proved that Homer was actually a historian and not just a great poet, since the war of Troy was indeed an historical fact.
- Grave Circle B. It is located west of the acropolis and it is thought to have been built during the Middle Helladic period (1650-1550 BC). The burial structure was enclosed by a circular stone wall, 28 m in diameter, and it hosts 26 graves, 14 of which were royal shaft graves. The rest were simple cists, small stone-built coffin-like boxes used to hold the bodies of the dead. Obviously, they belonged to members of the royal court. The excavations have brought to light some artifacts, but of smaller value.
Archeological museum of Mycenae
The museum is accommodated in a modern building inside the archeological site. It is extended in three levels and the findings are dated from the Late Bronze era till the Hellenistic period.
In the spacious lobby of the entrance, a model of the acropolis of Mycenae is displayed, as well as rich photographic material from the excavations made by Schliemann and others. In the adjacent rooms, the material displayed familiarizes the visitor with the life, the activities and the funerary customs of the Mycenaeans, thanks to the objects found in the two Grave Circles and the other chamber tombs. In the museum there are also replicas of certain golden objects, displayed in the archeological museum of Athens, such as the famous death mask of Agamemnon. In the rooms close to the exit there are findings regarding the influence of Mycenae in the Helladic region and in the east Mediterranean (writing, commercial contacts, etc.).
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Opening hours in winter: November 1-March 31, 08:00-15:00
Opening hours in summer: April, 08:00-19:00 May-October, 08:00-20:00
Good Friday: 12:00-17:00, Good Saturday: 08:00-15:00, Sunday July 5: 09:00-16:00
Free entrance: March 6 – in memory of Melina Merkouri
June 5 – World Environment Day
April 18 – International Day for Monuments and Sites
May 18 – International Museum Day
The last weekend of September every year (European Heritage Days)
Every first Sunday of month from November 1 till March 31