Mycenae is tied with Delphi as my favorite stop in Greece. The city is between 3600-3400 years old, and is one of the oldest archeological sites in the entire world.
The Mycenaeans chose the site because of its strategic location on top of a hill, allowing them a clear 360-degree view. This great civilization was known for their expansive travel and trade; their pottery has been found as far as Northern Turkey and Egypt. One of the coolest facts is that the Mycenaeans legit had lions running around their kingdom because they brought them back from Africa……LIONS!!!!!! This ties into another one of Hercules’ labors: he had to defeat the Nemean lion (Nemea was one hill over from Mycenae) for his first labor. I still can’t get over the fact that there were lions running around in ancient Greece…
To show visitors that the Mycenaeans were just as strong as the lions they imported, the walls surrounding the castle had one main entry point which had a 15-ton statue above the door. This is called the Lion’s Gate, as the gate has two lions overlooking the door. The heads are no longer there because they were PURE GOLD. PURE GOLD LION HEADS. Insane. This is also the oldest sculpture in Europe, since it has been in these walls for 3300 years.
As you can see, these walls were pretty tall, especially for such olden times. These walls were meant to intimidate (because of their size) and protect the castle. Because of their tall size, the people began calling them “cyclopian walls” as they could only have built by the large cyclopses that used to live on the land (according to legend, at least). The people had also found huge skeletons with one hole in the skull, which they assumed was proof of the cyclopses once living in Mycenae. In actuality, the walls were built with the aid of imported elephants, and those elephant skeletons were what the people found. Elephant skull skeletons have one large hole where their trunk is, and the people mistook this for an eye socket, since enough time had passed where no one had seen an elephant. Because of this, the ancient Mycenaeans were seen as majestic creatures and that the modern Mycenaeans were decedents of something god-like which only added to their notoriety.
One of Mycenae’s more famous claims to fame in the ancient times was their involvement in the Trojan War. King Agamemnon, a major player in the war, lived in 1300 BC and led the Greeks into the Trojan War. Historians thought that the Trojan War was all just a story created by Homer (who wrote about it all in The Iliad) until they found the Lions Gate in 1851 and began uncovering evidence that King Agamemnon did, in fact, exist, and so did evidence that they had participated in the Trojan War; the same architect went to Turkey to do more excavating and also found Troy, where the war took place.
We then took a walk inside of the walls, were we made it to the highest point of the hill, where the throne room was located. Obviously, there is nothing there any more, but the views were pretty spectacular. When King Agamemnon was alive, the sea was much closer than it is now, but you could still see it from the former throne room.
Me at the highest point of Mycenae
After walking around the ancient city, we made a pit stop at one of the ancient burial sites of the Mycenaeans. The tomb is built like a bee’s nest, so it has actually become a home for a lot of bees in the area. Since we weren’t too keen on getting stung, we took a look inside and quickly left.
This tomb was another example of magnificent architectural prowess of the Mycenaeans since it was so large and still stands today.
Mom for scale in front of the tomb
After this, our day trips came to a close. We had a quick lunch in the nearby town and were brought back to enjoy our last night in Nafplio. To learn more about that, read my blog post on what to do in Nafplio.
This was the last official day of sightseeing for the entire tour group, so the next morning we headed back to Athens to say goodbye to the majority of the group. Luckily for my mom and me, though, we had another few days to enjoy the beautiful island of Santorini, which is the blog post coming up next. Stay tuned for some island fun!