Wednesday, September 12: After seeing the Corinth Canal, we head down the road to Ancient Mycenae, the most powerful kingdom in Greece for 400 years (from 1600-1200 BC). Homer himself talked of Mycenae in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” where he described the ancient city as “rich in gold.” Myth and history are intertwined here, and amateur archeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822-90), found evidence, since found to be dubious, at Troy and Mycenae, that Homer’s legends might be true.
Legends aside, historical evidence shows that Mycenae was first settled by Neolithic people in the 6th millennium B.C. Between 2100 and 1900 BC, the city was invaded by people of Indo-European descent who brought an advanced culture to the primitive Mycenae. This new civilization is now called the Mycenaean.
Archeological evidence shows the palaces of the Mycenaean kingdoms declined around 1200 BC and the palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1100 BC. It is uncertain as to whether this was done by outsiders or as a result of internal battles between the various Mycenaean kingdoms.
We first go to the museum, where we see pottery, weaponry, jewelry and the important early clay tablets written in Linear B, an early language first uncovered in Knossos.
Then we enter the Citadel of Mycenae through the Lion Gate, built of massive stone blocks topped by two rearing stone lionesses.
Inside the Citadel we see Grave Circle A, which was the royal cemetery that contained six grave shafts. When Schliemann excavated five of these, he found an immense gold treasure, including the well-preserved gold death mask of, he thought, Agamemnon. It turned out the mask was of some unknown king who died 300 years before Agamemnon.
We walk up the main path to Agamemnon’s Palace. The rooms to the north were the private royal apartments, and one is believed to be the very room where Agamemnon was murdered.
The former glory days of Mycenae are hard to imagine here, as the ruins are so, well, ruined. But it’s fun to imagine that the stuff of legends once took place at this ancient and sacred spot.
After we leave Ancient Mycenae, we stop at the Treasury of Atreus, a tholos tomb shaped like a beehive. This is known to be the tomb of Agamemnon. A 40-meter long passage leads to the immense beehive chamber. Its stone blocks get steadily smaller as the structure tapers to its central point.
Then it’s lunchtime, but, as in your typical tour, the hotel restaurant is quite the tourist trap, with nondescript food for large groups. I don’t even bother to photograph this most uninspired meal.