The ancient citadel of Mycenae, which Homer described as "rich in gold," stands on a low hill, wedged between sheer, lofty peaks on the edge of two deep ravines. The gloomy, gray ruins are hardly distinguishable from the rock beneath; it's hard to believe that this kingdom was once so powerful that it ruled a large portion of the Mediterranean world, from 1500 BC to 1100 BC. The major archaeological artifacts from the dig are now in the National Archaeological Museum in
Athens, so seeing these first will add to your appreciation. The most famous object from the treasure found here is the so-called Death Mask of Agamemnon, a golden mask that 19th-century archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found in the last grave he excavated at Mycenae. He was ecstatic, convinced this was the mask of the king of Homeric legend who launched the Trojan War with his brother, Menelaus—but it is now known that this is impossible, since the mask dates from an earlier period. The Archaeological Museum in Nafplion also houses artifacts from this once-great city.
In 1841, soon after the establishment of the Greek state, the Archaeological Society began excavations of the ancient citadel, and in 1874 Heinrich Schliemann began to work at the site.
Today the citadel is entered from the northwest through the famous Lion Gate. The triangle above the lintel depicts in relief two lions, whose heads, probably of steatite, are now missing. They stand facing each other, their forepaws resting on a high pedestal representing an altar, above which stands a pillar ending in a uniquely shaped capital and abacus. Above the abacus are four sculptured discs, interpreted as representing the ends of beams that supported a roof. The gate was closed by a double wooden door sheathed in bronze. The two halves were secured by a wooden bar, which rested in cuttings in the jambs, still visible. The holes for the pivots on which it swung can still be seen in both sill and lintel.
Inside on the right stands the Granary, so named for the many pithoi (clay storage vessels) that were found inside the building, holding carbonized wheat grains.
Beyond the granary is the grave circle, made up of six stone slabs, encircled by a row of upright stone slabs interrupted on the northern side by the entrance. Above each grave stood a vertical stone stele. The "grave goods" buried with the dead were personal belongings including gold face masks, gold cups and jewelry, bronze swords with ivory hilts, and daggers with gold inlay, now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. South of the stone slabs lie the remains of the House of the Warrior Vase, the Ramp House, the Cult Center, and others; farther south is the House of Tsountas of Mycenae. The palace complex covers the summit of the hill and occupies a series of terraces; people entered through a monumental gateway in the northwest side and, proceeding to the right, beyond it, came to the Great Courtyard of the palace. The ground was originally covered by a plaster coating above which was a layer of painted and decorated stucco. East of the Great Courtyard is the throne room, which had four columns supporting the roof (the bases are still visible) and a circular hearth in the center. Remains of an Archaic temple and a Hellenistic temple can be seen north of the palace, and to the east on the right, on a lower level, are the workshops of the artists and craftsmen employed by the king. On the same level, adjoining the workshops to the east, is the House of the Columns, with a row of columns surrounding its central court. The remaining section of the east wall consists of an addition made in around 1250 BC to ensure free communication from the citadel with the subterranean reservoir cut at the same time.