Mycenae is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. Once a major centre of ancient Greek civilisation, its history mixes together myth, legend, and fact. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is easily reached on a day trip from Athens, or as part of a bigger Peloponnese road trip. Read on to find out more!
As a kid, I was always fascinated by myths, legends, and ancient civilisations. This carried on through to my adulthood, and I make it a priority to visit archaeological sites whenever I travel. Being based in Greece for this last six months, has really seen me indulge myself! There are an endless amount of archaeological sites such as Delphi, Messene, and Ancient Olympia to visit. One important site which I hadn't managed to tick off my list until now though, was Mycenae.
Mycenae was a military state which rose to power after the collapse of the Minoan civilisation. Dominating trade and commerce, Mycenae in effect defined ancient Greece from between 1600 to 1100BC. In fact, this period of Greek history is named the Mycenaean age. Even so, the Mycenaean culture and civilisation is a somewhat mysterious one. Most of what is known about the Mycenaeans is taken from the archaeological records, or from Homer's Epics. The latter of course was thought for many years to be just legend, until it was proven otherwise by the discovery of Troy. Now, mythical characters such as Agamemnon are thought to have been actual historical figures. Although a gold funerary mask was discovered at Mycenae, and is called ‘Agamemnon's Mask', there is no proof that it was actually his.
Getting to Mycenae
Mycenae is located in the north-east Peloponnese region of Greece, and is less than a two hour drive from Athens. Many people visit as part of a day trip from Athens, and there is a constant flow of tour buses coming and going from the site. As we were already taking a road trip through the Peloponnese anyway at the time, we drove ourselves. The site is very well signposted from the roads, and there is plenty of parking once there.
There are two parts to the site, the first of which is the Treasury of Atreus.
No treasure to be found there though. The site had long ago been robbed and looted of whatever may have been there. Was this the burial site for Agamemnon? We will never know for sure.
The second part is the main site itself. Once inside, there is a choice. See the museum first, or see it after walking around the site. We chose to see it first, and it was helpful in giving an overview as to how Mycenae developed over the years, along with its strategic importance. There were a number of interesting exhibits displayed in the museum, as well as a little back history as to how the site was excavated. Heinrich Schliemann plays a brief but important role in the site's excavation. If you recognise his name, it is because he also discovered what most historians now believe is Troy.
Close by to here, are also some impressive circular burial chambers.
Mycenae itself was a fortified hill city, centred around an Acropolis. Huge, strong walls surrounded Mycenae, with stones so large, that it was said the Cyclops helped in their construction. Walking around some sections, it was hard not to make comparisons with the equally impressive stone structures built by the Inca people of Peru. Closer inspection revealed that the Mycenae stone walls were nowhere near as well laid, or sophisticated though.
Access to the fortified part of Mycenae is gained by first walking through the Lion Gate. This is perhaps the most iconic part of the entire site. Walking up to the top, there are amazing views all around. There was also a very strong wind, and in the distance, a wildfire was burning. I think that wildfires have been a feature of Greece since ancient times, and in fact, the city is thought to have been burnt either on purpose or by nature around 1300BC.
There was also a tunnel which led to an underground cistern. This stored the city water supply in times of peace and war.
I really enjoyed visiting Mycenae. The views from the top were incredible, and even today, you have to respect the design, engineering, and sheer manpower that went into its construction over 3000 years ago.
Tips for Visiting Mycenae
All the usual advice for visiting ancient sites in Greece applies here. Take plenty of water, wear a hat, and slap on some sun-block. The only bathrooms on site are located nearby to the museum, so if you want to go, use them before walking up to the top of the fort!