Mycenae, the home of the Atreides royal family, is situated on a hill-top on the road leading from Argolic Gulf to Corinth / Athens, etc. The site was inhabited since Neolithic times (about 4000 BC) but reached its peak during the Late Bronze Age (1350-1200 BC), giving its name to a civilization which spread throughout the Greek world. During that period, the acropolis (= highest point of a city) was surrounded by massive “cyclopean” walls which were built in three stages (1350, 1250 and 1225 BC). The outer fortifying walls, are very large stones and must still look similar to 3500 years ago when they were built.
We enter the citadel of Mycenae through the famous Lions’ Gate, because of the two lions above the entranceway, the first monumental sculpture in Europe (13th century BC). Immediately on to our right we come to Grave Circle A, a royal cemetery in which Schliemann found six shaft graves, 19 skeletons, and the incredibly rich burial furnishings which made his discovery one of the great archaeological finds of all time. This is where Schlieman found the ancient mask, which he called “the Mask of Agamemnon” but turned out to be the face of an unknown king from a period 300 years earlier. That mask is probably one of the most recognized ancient artifacts in the world and is still unofficially known as “the mask of Agamemnon”.
The rest of the site is interesting if you know what you are looking at so take the time to read some of the material available in guidebooks. A ramp and stairs lead up from the grave circle to the palace on the top of the hill; unfortunately little remains of the palace except for a Great Court and a megaron (a room with central hearth and inner columns). The view when you get to the top of the hill is spectacular. You are really commanding the valley all the way down to Argos and Nafplion. From here you can follow a path down the back of the site to the Postern Gate and the Secret Cistern, a pitch-dark tunnel leading down some 80 steps through the solid rock. We can then return to the Lion Gate around the north side of the hill.
Outside the city walls, and across the road from Mycenae is the Royal grave or treasury of Atreus, which is one of the most impressive parts of ancient Mycenae. You walk through a passageway into an enormous bee-hive tomb dug into the ground. This is known as “a Tholos tomb” and this was the way the ancient Mycenaean’s began to bury their dead after the 15th century BC. The size of this tomb is incredible, and the stones are so massive that it’s believed that engineers who built Egyptian pyramids must have served as consultants when the Mycenaeans began constructing these “treasuries.”
A second tholos near the grave of Atreus was excavated by Mrs. Schliemann and is called the Tomb of Klytemnestra; it is one of the latest and most finely constructed of the tholoi. The third one called the Tomb of Aigisthos. is much earlier and its roof has collapsed. Returning down the modern road about a kilometre we come to the most famous tholos, the Tomb of Agamemnon; the half-columns, which decorated its doorway, are in the Mycenean Room of the National Museum.
Do not leave from the site without a visit to the museum of Mycenae. From the jewellery found in the graves some are displayed at the site’s museum and some in the Athens Archaeological Museum.