Greece 12 - Mycenae - The Lion Gate/the beehive tombs/

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May 9th 2017
Published: May 9th 2017
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Where in the world is Suzy today? She is sitting in another dusty car park hoping to get into this fascinating place before the bus loads turn up. But before we set out I grabbed the paracetamol and threw two down in the hope that they would make my back stop aching. I don’t know if it is the bed in Suzy, the hiking up and down hills and steps or the fact that I am not exercising or swimming . Whatever it is my sciatic nerve feels trapped and I have “toothache “ in my hip. Glenns chesty cold seems to be heading for a chest infection. He hits the antibiotics Even with all these niggles we are still making the most of this trip and nothing is going to stop us doing what we intended to do. The weather never changes reaching 30 degrees by lunchtime. It just gets hotter as the day progresses . We do the sightseeing in the morning and for once sit around reading or writing in the afternoon. It’s a lazy life but someone has to do it.

We set off from the campsite for the short drive up to the remains. We hope to get there before the heat of the day sets in and the tourist hoards turn up in the buses. All the sites open at 8 which is a godsend and Mycenae is no exception. Today we are at the fortified palace complex of Mycenae high up on the hillside. Uncovered by the archaeologist Schliemann in 1874 it is one of the earliest examples of a sophisticated citadel architecture. Built in the late bronze age from 1700BC to 1100BC it was the home of the ruling classes. The rich lived on the hilltop, the poor and the merchants down below just outside the safety of the city walls.

Our first stop was an empty car park where we paid our entrance fee to see both the main site and the so called Treasury of Atreus. This structure dated from the 14th century BC and from the outside looks like a huge mound of earth. It reminded me of Maes Howe a burial mound in Orkney. The Greeks mainly cremated their dead by the Myceaneans buried the bodies in beehive shaped tombs surrounded by their weapons and enough food to take them through the Underworld. The place is steeped in history and it was here as stood in the darkness that we could marvel at the work involved in building the roof of the grave . In the silence all we could hear were bees buzzing in their nests somewhere inside the roof. Ironic bees in a beehive tomb. The tomb we stood in was around four centuries before the Trojan Wars. We felt priviledged to be there.

According to legend Mycenae was founded by Perseus the son of Zeus and Danae who raised the walls with the help of the one eyed giants the Cyclops. We were shortly to see these walls but first Suzy had to climb her way up the hill to the higher car park. A café stood here closed but with signs that it might open later. The museum shop was shut, the ticket office open. Our lower ticket was valid here so no more cash changed hands. Our first stop the Tomb of Klytemestra a rather evil lady who with her lover killed her husband Agamemnon. This dates from the same period as the beehive tomb. We walked up the well worn marble path the wrong way. We were followed by a lonely Italian man clicking away with his camera. It felt like follow my leader until we turned and explained we had come the wrong way. The map was as usual schematic and not particularly true to detail. It had none of the finesse of an Ordnance Survey map so we had gone the wrong way and he and us had to back track. In this sweltering heat that was the last thing any of us needed but back tracked we did and we passed through the Lion Gate. The gate was erected in the 13th century BC and is the main gate into the city. Above the massive stone slabs which were indeed only been capable of being lifted by giants were two lionesses headless but nevertheless impressive. It made our own Stonehenge look insignificant. It beggars belief trying to work out how they got the stones into position as some weigh as much as 200 tonnes.

Above the gate is the first of the so called Royal tombs. It was here that Schliemann thought he would find the body of King Agamemnon. What he found was the bodies of eight men, nine women and two children. The men had gold death masks over their faces. We saw those in the museum in Athens. It is easy to see why the archaeologists would think that these bodies must be those of great kings.

Climbing higher and higher up the well worn path we came to the palace which is reduced to a pile of stone here there and everywhere. The traces are there of the footprints of courtyards, porticoes and vestibules with temples and upper terraces dedicated to the goddess Athena.

From this point there is only way and that is down , back to the tiny museum which by now had opened for visitors. It is small but each cabinet was filled with the finds from the site or at least those not seen as sufficiently important to be shipped off to Athens. Beads and the finery of the women, household objects and pots. They were all there.

Our final stop was the café now opened for a well deserved ice cream and a fresh orange juice just to ensure I continued my intake of Vitamin C. Any old excuse to drink fresh orange. I might buy a juicer when I get home I could get used to drinking the stuff. History comes to life here but it isn’t half hard on your feet and ankles, on your calves and leg muscles.


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