Thursday, 12 November 2015

Mycenae

Tuesday, 10th November

We've clocked a few archaeological sites so far in the Peloponnese. Today we cycled up to the hilltop citadel of Mycenae, the legendary palace of king Agamemnon, leader of the Greek army during the Trojan War. Of all the sites we've seen, perhaps this one is the most rewarding, for a variety of reasons.



The setting.


The citadel is strategically places so it commands a view towards the high mountains to the north and west, and dominates the wide plain to the south all the way to the Gulf of Argolis.






Agamemnon pose
The Royal Tombs


I was unprepared for the sheer grandeur and scale of the so called beehive tombs. The only other place I can think of to rival these structures during the Bronze Age are the Egyptian monuments we saw at Luxor.









The Palace Remains

I suppose it's the famous Lion Gate that gets most attention. What impressed me most were the subterranean passageways on the less visited north side of the monument. These were culverts and aqueducts built around 1200BC to ensure the citadel had a secure water supply. The dark, subterranean stone passageways felt all a bit Indiana Jones!


The  'Liom Gate


On the Lion Gate, between the two figures is a perfectly formed 'doric' column. Most people probably don't give this a second glance, but I became very excited. Why? Because 'Doric' columns are associated with the Dorian tribes that invaded Greece in the 8th and 9th centuries BC. They are the ancestors of the Greeks of Classical times, not the builders of Mycenae. The Myceneneans - the heroes of Troy, like Agamemnon and Odysseus - were re-invented by the Dorian Greeks as larger than life heroic figures. Not suprising when you look at the sheer scale of the stonework at Mycenae, it does look like the work of giants. This little picture of a 'Doric' column on a Mycenean monument really intruiged me, perhaps the style pre-dated the Dorian invasion, and like the 'heroes', was something that the later Greeks adopted, rather than invented.

You have to have sympathy with Gill in all of this, for forty years she has tolerated living with someone whjo gets very excited about a Doric column, but still needs to consult a recipe book to cook an omlette, has a distinct propensity towards wearing Tee shirts back to front, and says 'turn right' when he means go left.


Like many eatly civilisations they buried their ancestors at the doorway. The first thing you come across beyond the Lion Gateway are circle tombs. It was here that the famous gold death mask of 'Agamemnon' was discovered.
The rear of the complex has a series of subterranean passageways associated with water management. It was full of wasps, dark and distictly Indoiana Jones.

The Museum


Another brilliant small archaeological museum, the Greeks are very good at them. Maybe a few senior people from English Heritage dot com should come here to remind themselves of how to communicate history to people seriously, without assuming that everything is an opportunity to make money on the back of Downton Abbey style pseudo-history. Not only were the artefacts clearly labelled and beautifully displayed, but a series of well designed boards communicated all kinds of interesting background information- comparative timelines on Minoan, Cycladic and Hellenic cultures, trade links, from Afghanistan (lapis lazuli) to Cornwall (tin), a section on the history of the excavations themselves. Visitors were assumed to be intelligent, interested adults.



Beautiful abstract decoration on the Mycenean pottery
3500 year old cooking utensils

Small female figurines are typical of the culture - perhaps associated with a fertility cult.



It's slightly spooky to think that last person to fasten this around their neck lived over 3000 years ago.
These small seals were used as legal signatures and 'quality marks' on goods - Bronze Age 'quality assurance!' The seal is roughly the size of a thumb nail, the minature design is astoundingly  intricate, just look at the delicacy of the shading on the animals' belly.
So, a really satisfying morning. We had originally planned to stay at the local campsite for two nights. However, when we discovered we were going to be charged 20 euros per night for what amounted to fairly ancient facilities that were unkempt at best, we decided to move on, and found ourselves back in Tolo, this time at a free Camperstop by the quayside.

Camping Mykenes, pleasant enough, but ancient, worn-out facilities - and over-priced at 20 euros per night.
The upside is I did manage to have that final swim I've been promising myself, the downside, is the place is noisy, and attracts a few boy racers doing handbrake turns. Hopefully they will all have early bedtimes, Greek mothers seem a pretty fearsome lot. 


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