Greece- Land of Gods and Heroes Day 4

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Today we traveled to the ancient sites of the Peloponnese Peninsula. The sky was hazy and cloudy due to the dust from Africa. The Saharan Desert’s dust was blowing in because the winds were blowing from the South.

The morning was spent in Mycenae. The Mycenaean civilization was a prehistoric kingdom. It was founded between two hills on a low plateau. This site was first occupied in 7,000 BC. Most of the monuments that we saw today were built between 1350 and 1200 BC. The historians are still trying to figure out the full history of the Mysenaeans because there was little recorded history! If you like mysteries then this ancient civilization is one to explore.

Mycenae Ruins
Looking out at the Aegean in the distance. If it wasn’t hazy you could see it clearly!

Historians believe the Mycenaeans about 2400 years ago controlled the Aegean Sea after they attacked Troy, which is now Turkey. And then the Mycenaeans disappeared and their empire was gone. Again, no one knows if it was an attack, an invasion, a drought, or a rebellion but whatever happened Mycenae was abandoned and burned by 1100 BC!

In 1876 the site was excavated and when you visit Mycenae you see some of the oldest remains of prehistory. It is said these remains are 1,000 years older than Athens’ Acropolis.

When you walk up the hill to the citadel you come to the Lion Gate (1240 BC). It guards the city up on the hill. The lions’ heads are missing which some think were made of precious stones or gold and then stolen. There was a wooden door with a bar that went across to protect from intruders. Because the door was made of wood it has rotted away.

Grave Circle A was used to bury Mycenaean Royalty (16th Century BC). The royals were buried here with their most precious belongings like gold swords, spears, engraved cups, and ritual objects because they believed in the afterlife.

Grave Circle A

A gold mask was uncovered that was the face of a bearded man. Masks were tied onto the faces of the deceased. These items were unearthed in 1876 and they can be found in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

This is a replica that is in the museum at Mycenae

Below is the small doorway in the fortification on the far eastern end that was an escape route out the back if the Mycenaeans were under seige!

Escape Route

Near this was the cistern that can be reached by steps that go 50 feet down. The cistern stored water from the hillside springs! We did not climb down the steps to peek at darkness!

Steps to the underground cistern

The North Gate is smaller than the Lion Gate but it has the same shape. It was constructed during the second phase of building around 1250 BC! Four blocks of stone form the two jambs. A double wooden door closed the gate and it was bolted by a sliding bar. The door you see in the picture below is a reconstruction of the original door.

North Gate

The Mycenaeans seemed very knowledgeable about masonry in the construction of the fortress, their engineering seemed advance with the cistern that was built and the architects who designed the area.

The wall that protected the fortress is called a cyclopean wall because it was built 40 feet high, 20 feet thick and 3,000 feet long and consisted of 14,000 boulders weighing 5 to 10 tons each! The cyclops, one-eyed giants, did not build the wall but they theorize the Mycenaeans probably used the same process as the Egyptians when they built the pyramids. They built ramps and rolled the stones up on logs that were pulled by oxen or horses.

After our hike around the area we visited the little museum that is located down the slope. We saw examples of items from the graves and items from everyday life.

A partial wall painting was uncovered. The fresco is shown below. The first picture is a painting of what the fresco originally looked like. The second picture is what they recovered and the last picture is a close up.

The Mycenaeans did a lot of trading and the museum included many sealstones to seal the documents or packages.


Parts of clay tablets were found and the characters represented a syllable. Each of the fragments found represented a subject like religion, products, lists of names as you can see in the picture below. Not much of the Mycenaean documents survived so little is known about their other thoughts.

When we finished at the museum we visited the Treasury of Atreus or the Tomb of Agamemnon, 13th century BC. The Mycenaeans went from burying their royalty like the Grave Circle A to tholoi. A tholos is a huge beehive-shaped underground chamber. The entryway to the Treasury of Atreus is 110 feet long and 20 feet wide. The walls go up at a diagonal as you get to the entrance. The lintel over the entrance is massive, 26 feet across by 16 feet by 3 feet and weighs 120 tons!

The inside of the chamber is round, 47 feet in diameter and 42 feet tall. The roof has a shape of a beehive. When built is was adorned with painted and sculpted decorations. The entrance had a wooden double door and then sealed with stones. The beehive grave had already been robbed by the 2nd century AD and was used by shepherds as shelter and their fires blackened the stone walls. What relief decoration fragments found in 1878 are in various museums around Europe, especially in London and Athens.

After our visit to Mycenae, we had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant nearby.

Kolyzeras Restaurant

On our way to Nafplio we passed the birthplace of Hercules.

Birthplace of Hercules

After lunch we did a walking tour of Nafplio and had some free time to shop! Nafplio is located on the coast on the Peloponnese peninsula. It is historically important because of its location to Athens, and for visiting Mycenae, and Epidaurus. We walked through the Old town which is mainly pedestrian only.

Looking up on the hill is the Fortress of Palamidi which was built by the Venetians between 1686 and 1715. Some of its most prominent structures are: a castle, church and a prison.

Fortress of Palamidi

Below are some pictures from this quaint coastal town.

Our next to the last stop of the day was the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus. It is considered to be the best preserved ancient theater in Greece. It was built in the late 4th century BC. It is known for its great acoustics. Actors can be heard perfectly anywhere in the 15,000 seat theater. Marina, our guide, ripped a piece of paper and you could hear the rip anywhere in the theater even at the very top!

The Melas Olive Oil factory was our last stop. The owner gave us an overview of the process on their farm, a tour of their facility, and a tasting!

It was a busy day. We covered over 168 miles on our travels today. Tomorrow will be another fun adventure.

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