Erected by Cyclops | Remnants of the Mycenaean civilization

by Fabian Jürgens
Published: Last Updated on

Superseding the Minoans in the later stages of the Bronze Age (1750-1050 BCE), the Mycenaeans became the dominant Greek culture, as well as the first advanced civilization on the mainland before completely vanishing from the world stage at the turn of the millennium. Today, the monolithic marvels of Mycenae and Tiryns tell the staggering tale of their former height.

At a time when most of Europe still dwelled in darkness, the light shone bright in Hellas. First held by the Minoans, the torch of civilization was subsequently passed on to the Mycenaeans who established one of the most sophisticated societies of their time. Trade flourished, and kings and queens resided in luxurious palaces, lavishly ornamented with colourful murals and mosaics, their settlements shielded by colossus walls so monumental the Greeks later believed them to be erected by Cyclopes. Their remains were laid out in massive underground tombs, filled with the finest art and most intricate metalwork, that were to grant them safe passage to the afterlife.

However, when the Mycenaeans perished in the cataclysmic events of the Bronze Age collapse, their legacy drifted into the realm of legends. For the people who ultimately emerged from the obscurity of the region’s Dark Age, the Mycenaeans were larger than life and the period of their reign became known as the “Age of Heroes”, not only setting the stage for Homer’s great epics Iliad and Odyssey but Greek mythology as a whole.    

Whether the fanciful extend of these stories is to be believed is one thing. The awe-inspiring (and very much tangible) existence of Mycenaean monumental structures is unquestionable though. Now, protected by UNESCO, the imposing remnants of these ancient metropolises allow a fascinating glimpse into this mythical period of human history.

ruined site of Mycenae featuring two lions leaning on an altar carved into a single stone above the entrance


Uniformly regarded as the most powerful and splendid of the Mycenaean cities, Mycenae was (according to legend) founded by none other than Perseus, son of the Greek Allfather Zeus and the beautiful Danaë. Although the true origin of the name has been lost to time, the Greek traveller Pausanias, who visited the site in the 2nd century BCE, gives the following explanations:

  • Perseus chose the name after the pommel (mykes) of his sword fell to the ground
  • Perseus discovered a spring underneath a giant mushroom (also mykes)

Whatever the case, her secure location, perched on a rocky hill surrounded by rugged peaks and steep valleys, and the advantageous position enabling control of the local trade routes, paved her way of becoming the dominant Mycenaean settlement by the 14th century BCE.

Unfortunately, besides the indomitable Cyclopean walls and the famous Lion Gate, few remains of the former citadel. However, during Mycenae’s heyday the palace featured the beautifully decorated megaron (the political, administrative, military, and economical centre of Mycenaean poleis), various shrines and temples (a rarity for Mycenaean sites), separate quarters for the different artisans and craftsmen, an underground cistern, and several administrative and commercial buildings.

monolithic walls encircling the ruined palace of Mycenae located on an elevated plateau between two pointy peaks
olive groves on a slope near the ancient city of Mycenae

Today, the structural highlights lie beneath the surface though.

The enormous tholos tombs, characterized by their imposing, elongated portals, and lofty beehive vaults, impress as much with their grandeur as with their architectural finesse. Designed as the final resting places for Mycenae’s royal families, the chambers are acoustic masterpieces, echoing the softest word and gentlest footstep (even with the dome collapsed!) 

An utterly magnificent feat of engineering.

Three of these burial sites can be found within the archaeological park, while several smaller tombs rest undisturbed in the shade of the surrounding olive groves (for those seeking to go on a little Tomb Raider mission). Most stand derelict, however, one (pinned on Google Maps as Demon’s Grave) is in perfect condition. The grandest of the tombs, the illustrious sounding “Treasury of Atreus”, lies south of the site and can be visited as part of the archaeological park.  

Also, don’t forget to stop by the museum, showcasing hundreds of wonderful artifacts, including intriguing cult objects, different style weapons, beautiful pottery, and the golden Mask of Agamemnon (indeed, the same Agamemnon who led half of Greece into a decade long conflict of honour, because some goddesses deemed it wise to let a mortal be the judge in their beauty pageant), painting a vivid picture of one of the Ancient World’s most prolific civilizations.

Opening hours | 8:00-18:30 (might differ during the winter months)

Entrance fee | General admission: 12€; non EU citizens (age 6-25): 6€, EU citizens (25 and under)/non EU citizens (5 and under): free

Free admission days | March 6 | April 18 | May 18 | October 28 | last weekend of September | first Sunday of every month from November 1 till March 31

Closed | January 1 | March 25 | Orthodox Easter Sunday | May 1 | December 25-26


During high season, buses go directly from Argos to the archaeological park, however, in off season you will get off in Fichti roughly four kilometres (45min) from the site.

If you don’t fancy walking the remainder of the way, you could arrange private transport or try to hitchhike. Most people driving towards the village of Mykines will head for the ruins so chances are high that someone will pick you up.

a man, wearing a blue shirt and olive shorts, walks out of an ancient Mycanean beehive tomb


Twenty kilometres to the south, yet another incredible centre of the Mycenaean civilization deserves your attention. Albeit inferior to Mycenae in both prestige and prevalence, visually the site is not less impressive. Though nowadays reduced to her magnificent outer walls, one can only imagine Tiryns at the peak of her power, when 10.000 people dwelled in the presence of her impenetrable defences, thereby creating one of the most important Bronze Age settlements in Europe.   

Like her northern neighbour, Tiryns is also deeply rooted in Greek mythology. Before founding Mycenae, Perseus himself ruled over these fertile lands hugging the Argolic Gulf. Yet, he wasn’t the only fabled hero who resided in the city’s grand halls. After slaughtering his own wife and children, Hercules was sent to Tiryns on his search for atonement (Twelve Labours of Hercules), and likewise Bellerophon, son of Poseidon and accompanied by his winged steed Pegasus, stopped by the Cyclopean walls of Tiryns on his quest to vanquish the vile Chimaera of Caria.

Although smaller than Mycenae, a visit to Tiryns is worthwhile. Conveniently situated on a freestanding limestone rock just off the road between Argos and Náfplio, her remains are spectacular, thus warranting a short detour.

If you are looking to obtain a deeper understanding of this ancient civilization, Mycenae is the place to be though.

Opening hours | 8:00-15:30

Entrance fee | General admission: 4€; EU citizens 25 and under: free

Free admission days | March 6 | April 18 | May 18 | October 28 | last weekend of September | first Sunday of every month from November 1 till March 31

Closed | January 1 | March 25 | Orthodox Easter Sunday | May 1 | December 25-26


Take the hourly bus between Argos and Náfplio (from the main bus station in Argos). Simply tell the driver to drop you off in Tiryns. The archaeological park lies right next to the road. 

Tiryns is located four kilometres from Náfplio city centre.

triangle shaped portal leading up to a stone staircase
cone shaped alcove in a stone wall
monolithic stone walls shielding the ancient Mycenaean city of Tiryns


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