The Citadel of Mycenae can be found about 90 kilometers southwest of Athens. It is one of the most popular sights in the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland, but for a long time, the city was only known through Greek legends and Homer’s Illiad.
The amateur archeologist Heinrich Schlieman managed to find the city only based on the descriptions and landmarks from the Illiad. Mycenae is located on a hill between two mountains, and overlooks the Plain of Argos, one of the most fertile plains in Greece. The hill had been populated since 3000 BC, and by 1400 BC Mycenae controlled most of Greece, including many of the islands. But by 1100 BC some disaster had wiped out this once powerful civilization.
Perseus was the supposeed founder of the city, but the most famous royal family of Mycenae is named is after King Atreus. He had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus. Agamemnon ruled Mycenae with his wife Cassandra, but when Menelaus’s wife, Helen, was kidnapped by Paris of Troy, Agamemnon led the Greeks in the 10 year long Trojan War to bring her back. When Agamemnon returned, he was murdered by his wife’s lover, Aegisthus.
The entrance to Mycenae is through the famous Lion Gates in one of the massive walls. On the slopes of the hill are the remains of the administrative buildings, while the palace is at the top of the hill. The palace had plenty of bedrooms, court rooms, a throne room and a ceremonial hall, where you can see the remains of the altar. There is also a small bathtub, which Scliemann thought was the place where Agamemnon was stabbed to death. At the north east corner is an enormous cistern, which helped the city withstand long sieges.
Grave Circle A
This area is famous for being the place where Schliemann found the so called Mask of Agamemnon, on a body in a burial shaft in 1876. Schliemann truly believed this gold death mask was used for the funeral of the legendary king, sent a message to the king of Greece: “I have looked upon the face of Agamemnon.” Later dating of this mask and four others found in the same area, have concluded that they are from 1550-1500 BC and belonged to kings who died long before Agamemnon, but the name still remains. The original is displayed in the National Archeological Museum in Athens, but there’s a copy in the Mycenae Archeological Museum.
Treasury of Atreus
This is the largest of the beehive tombs in Mycenae. It is an enormous construction from 1300 BC. The lintel stone over the doorway weighs an astounding 120 tons, while the tomb itself is 13 meters high, and has a 14 meter diameter. The tomb was plundered already back in antiquity, but it was once richly decorated, and the bronze nails in the ceiling held bronze rosettes. No one knows for sure, but if this was in fact the family tomb of the House of Atreus, it might very well have been the Tomb of Agamemnon, as it is referred to by some.
Mycenae Archeological Museum
The museum, opened in 2004, displays many of the artifacts found at Mycenae, but its galleries are small, making it difficult to get a good look when the museum is crowded, so you are better off visiting early.
Inside there’s a model of the Mycenae citadel, as well as copies of the jewelry and gold masks found at grave circle A. The exhibitions are arranged by the location they were found, trying to give a sense of everyday life on the acropolis.