In the Iliad, Homer describes Mycenae as "rich in gold," but it was much more. In Greek myths, Mycenae was founded by Perseus, who killed the gorgon Medusa, the Cyclops built the stone walls of the citadel, and Hercules was assigned his twelve impossible tasks by King Eurystheus. Historically, Mycenae was the fortified stronghold of Agamemnon, High King of Greece, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War. Today, the massive stone walls still stand, and in the darkness of beehive tombs, listen for echoes of its glorious past.
The citadel at Mycenae was enclosed in a massive thick stone wall - the stones are so big it seems that it would need the Cyclops to put them in place. Step through the Lion Gate, the fancy entrance to the stronghold, topped with two lions (or lionesses) - originally there were two big bronze doors also.
Inside the walls, head up the steps to the palace (or head off to the right to Grave Circle A). The palace complex had living quarters and large public areas. Most visible today is the large rectangle, the megaron, which was brightly decorated in red, yellow and blue geometric patterns. As you stand in the middle, surveying the valley below, just imagine that you're the High King of Greece, sitting on his throne, meeting with his administrators and royal guests.
From the hill top, keep going west down off the hillside - it's fun to explore the warren of rooms of the little palace.
At the far end of the enclosed wall, you'll find the entrance to the secret cistern. For the citadel, having a steady water supply was important - water was brought underground from a spring to the cistern. You'll need flashlights to go down the steps that lead to the cistern. It's somewhat steep and the steps are worn very smooth, so be careful as you descend. In the ghostly darkness, you might hear the footsteps of the ancient Mycenaens.
Grave Circle A - In 1876, Schliemann (same guy who found Troy) hit a treasure trove of grave burials -people buried with gobs of golden goodies, including golden masks, jewelry, belts and bracelets, diadems, rings, cups and goblets, plus bronze swords and daggers. See copies of a few of the gold objects in the Mycenae Museum, but to see the original finds, visit the National Archeological Museum in Athens.
"Beehive tombs" - Outside the citadel walls, don't miss the fabulous "beehive" tombs:
Tomb of Clytemnestra
- Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, wasn't really buried in this beehive tomb, but it was royal burial, built about 1220 B.C., and it's wonderful inside. Step through the tall doorway (the entrance was originally brightly painted and decorated) into a gigantic domed beehive space - it's dark and cool inside.
Down the road, the Treasury of Atreus
is a similar tomb with a beehive ceiling. Also called the "Tomb of Agamemnon," it's the biggest of all the tombs at Mycenae. All that's left is the impressive structure, the contents of the fabulous tomb were looted long ago in antiquity.
Museum - Check out the two models of Mycenae, one of the whole site, another of the palace alone - the models really help to visualize what the citadel was like. The museum also has reproductions of the golden burial goods from Grave Circle A, a golden death mask (called the "mask of Agamemnon" - it isn't really his face, but it's amazing anyway), two swords, a golden diadem and necklace, and a collection of endearing pottery votive figures (you can get some ideas for clay class).
Tip: Stones are worn smooth over the centuries at these ruins, wear shoes or sandals with straps so you can easily scramble around (you'll want to avoid skinned knees). Bring suntan lotion and lots of water.