Mycenae is old, I'm talkin' damn old. Mycenae is even older than that joke about the 12 inch pianist. Yeah, that's old.
Mycenae is so old that when you look into it's history it quickly becomes a bit murky as to which bits actually happened, and which bits are pure mythology.
What we do know for a fact is that Mycenae was a major power in the second millennium BC & the period of Greek history around 1600-1200 BC is known as the Mycenean period in reference to just how damn dominant this place was over much of Greece around then. However, as if dating back to the second millennium BC wasn't old enough, archaeologists reckon this place was inhabited as early as the seventh century BC. So yeah, pretty damn old.
Now that's all well & good, but it's a bit boring innit? The mythological stuff is way more interesting, so on that note it's time for a quick lesson about Mycenae's most famous son. Take notes, there will be a test later in the comments section.
Once upon a time there was this dude called Agamemnon. I know, pretty lame name right, you're probably thinking no way could a guy called Agamemnon be up to much, but get this - Agamemnon was in fact the ruler of Mycenae & the leader of the Greek forces who waged a 10 year war against the Trojans way back in the day more than a thousand years before the birth of ya man J.C. Holy-Hands. He was a brave warrior & an all round righteous dude. It was his brother, Menelaus, who had his fine-ass wife Helen snatched out from under his nose by the Trojan prince Paris which is what triggered the whole Trojan War. Basically, Menelaus was too much of a butt-hurt little bitch to do anything about it, so he had to get his big bro Agamemnon to summon the Greek forces & sort shit out.
Meanwhile, over on the Trojan side, Paris was also proving himself to be a total pussy - the kind of weanie who probably covered his ears during a fire drill & pulled his pants all the way down to his ankles to pee. Anyway, he was too much of a little pansy to step up & get involved in defending his city from the Greek onslaught that he had brought upon them, so he had to leave that to his big brother Hector. So in summation, the whole Trojan war is a story of two weak little tossers who got their big brothers to fight their battles for them when they should have actually just stepped up, gone at it mano-a-mano, winner takes all, and prevented the whole 10 year long Trojan War fiasco.
Now everyone knows the Greeks eventually emerged victorious in the war, thanks in no small part to a large wooden horse. This military tactic was so successful that the American forces reused it in the recent Iraq war, where the fall of Bagdad was brought about by a bunch of American commandos hiding inside a big wooden camel (maybe). Anyway the point is that at the end of the day Agamemnon got the job done, and went home to Mycenae & his adoring wife. However, in a sinister turn, in his absence his whorish wife had hooked up with another man, and both of them ambushed Agamemnon in the bathtub & killed him, thus bringing about the sad demise of this great hero & cementing his wife in Greek mythology as a certified grade-A deceitful slapper. However, turns out Agamemnon's young son managed to escape the city, returned as an adult & avenged his father by killing his mother & her lover. But then he went insane upon realising what he had done. I love a story with a happy ending.
Anyway, with that pretty damn solid history lesson out of the way you will enjoy the ruin of Mycenae all the more, and could probably pass a university-entrance ancient history exam off the back of that as well - winning.
Now one thing to bear in mind before heading off to Mycenae is that this archaeological site is nowhere near as immediately impactful as the likes of Delphi or the Acropolis in Athens - it is very much a ruin & it is mainly the foundations of the buildings which remain today. However, anyone with more than a passing interest in Greek history will find it fascinating, and obviously we're all big history experts after that outstanding lesson earlier.
Additionally, there are good signs everywhere so you know what you're looking at, and the whole place is set amongst some glorious scenery, so it's not too hard to imagine a bunch of old Myceneans running round the place, going about their daily lives, and high-fiving each other on being the dominant power in southern Greece in the second millennium BC.
The site as it remains today is based around a hill-top citadel that historically would have housed the royal palace, and is commonly referred to as Agamemnon's Palace. At it's peak, Mycenae was home to some 30,000 ancient Greek peeps, so obviously back then the town spilled over onto the surrounding countryside as the hill is pretty small - no way you're fitting 30,000 people on there. The citadel contains the remains of the royal palace, some impressive & still pretty intact walls, as well as an assortment of other buildings & public spaces. You'll also see some impressive burial circles with the stonework still largely intact.
The star of the show though, is the main entrance to the citadel - the famous Lions Gate. This massive entranceway, still standing to this day, is crowned by a very impressive relief sculpture of two lions (some scholars have argued they're actually griffins not lions, but seriously "Griffins Gate" doesn't sounds nearly as good as "Lions Gate", so get the fuck outta here bozos).
The Lion's Gate is in fact the oldest monumental sculpture in all of Europe, and given it's age it is still in remarkably good condition. Yes, both lions have lost their heads somewhere along the way, but looking past that (not so) minor detail, the Lions Gate looks pretty freakin' sweet & I reckon it's worth the day trip just to see it. Walking through a gate that old, passing under the ancient sculpture of the lions is a pretty cool experience indeed.
So in summary, I would say that Mycenae is not quite the must-see attraction that Delphi is - however if you're the kind of person who likes to wander around ancient places where you can almost feel the history oozing from every stone, ruminating about how your very existence is but a tiny thread in the vast patchwork of time (fuck that's poetic) then you will love the place. If in doubt, and if you're in the area, then give it a go, at the very least you'll have a nice walk in the beautiful Peloponnesian countryside & learn a bit of history while you're at it.
Key info for a visit to Mycenae:
- Mycenae is located in the north eastern Peloponnese. While it is only 140km from Athens, making a day trip possible (if you have your own wheels), I'd recommend staying in the area since there's loads of other cool stuff to see around here.
- The quaint little city of Nafplio is your best bet for staying this region - it's a cute little place, loads of accommodation & places to eat, and it makes a perfect jumping off point for day trips around the area.
- 3 buses run each day from Nafplio to Mycenae, at 10am, 12 noon & 2pm, and return at 11am, 1pm & 3pm - so you're probably best leaving at 10 & getting the 1pm bus back, or leaving at noon & getting the 3pm return bus. The bus actually drops you in the modern village of Mycenae, about 1 & a half km from the archaeological site, but it's an easy walk up so don't stress. See here for extra info (don't worry it's in English).
- Entrance to the site costs 8 euros, this includes admission to the museum as well. The museum is interesting enough, but most of the really cool shit found at Mycenae is now on display in the Archaeological Museum in Athens, so be sure to check that out when you're back in the capital.
Have you learned a bit about Greek history from this post? (highly unlikely). Are you now inspired to visit Mycenae yourself? (maybe more likely). Let me know in the comments below.