Tiryns And Mycenae – Greece Travel

The fortress of Tiryns may fitly be commented on before approaching the younger, or at least more artistically finished, Mycenae. It stands several miles nearer to the sea, in the center of the great plain of Argos, and upon the only hillock which there affords any natural scope for fortification. Instead of the square, or at least hewn, well-fitted blocks of Mycenae, we have here the older style of rude masses piled together as best they would fit, the interstices being filled up with smaller fragments. This is essentially cyclopean building. There is a smaller fort, of rectangular shape, on the southern and highest part of the oblong hillock, the whole of which is surrounded by a lower wall, which takes in both this and the northern longer part of the ridge. It looks, in fact, like a hill-fort, with a large inclosure for cattle around it.

Just below the northeast angle of the inner fort, and where the lower circuit is about to leave it, there is an entrance, with a massive projection of huge stones, looking like a square tower, on its right side, so as to defend it from attack. The most remarkable feature in the walls are the covered galleries, constructed within them at the southeast angle. The whole thickness of the wall is often over twenty feet, and in the center a rude arched way is made—or rather, I believe, two parallel ways; but the inner gallery has fallen in, and is almost untraceable—and this merely by piling together the great stones so as to leave an opening, which narrows at the top in the form of a Gothic arch. Within the passage, there are five niches in the outer side, made of rude arches in the same way as the main passage. The length of the gallery I measured, and found it twenty-five yards, at the end of which it is regularly walled up, so that it evidently did not run all the way round. The niches are now no longer open, but seem to have been once windows, or at least to have had some lookout points into the hill country.

It is remarkable that, altho the walls are made of perfectly rude stones, the builders have managed to use so many smooth surfaces looking outward, that the face of the wall seems quite clean and well built. At the southeast corner of the higher and inner fort, we found a large block of red granite, quite different from the rough, gray stone of the building, with its surface square and smooth, and all the four sides neatly beveled, like the portal stones at the treasury of Atreus. I found two other similar blocks close by, which were likewise cut smooth on the surface. The intention of these stones we could not guess, but they show that some ornament, and some more finished work, must have once existed in the inner fort. Tho both the main entrances have massive towers of stone raised on their right, there is a small postern at the opposite or west side, not more than four feet wide, which has no defenses whatever, and is a mere hole in the wall.

The whole ruin is covered in summer with thistles, such as English people can hardly imagine. The needles at the points of the leaves are fully an inch long, extremely fine and strong, and sharper than any two-edged sword. No clothes except a leather dress can resist them. They pierce everwhere with the most stinging pain, and make antiquarian research in this famous spot a veritable martyrdom, which can only be supported by a very burning thirst for knowledge, or the sure hope of future fame. The rough masses of stone are so loose that one’s footing is insecure, and when the traveler loses his balance, and falls among the thistles, he will wish that he had gone to Jericho instead, or even fallen among thieves on the way.

It is impossible to approach Mycenae from any side without being struck with the pieturesqueness of the site. If you come down over the mountains from Corinth, as soon as you reach the head of the valley of the Inachus, which is the plain of Argos, you turn aside to the left, or east, into a secluded corner—”a recess of the horse-feeding Argos,” as Homer calls it—and then you find on the edge of the valley, and where the hills begin to rise one behind the other, the village of Charvati. When you ascend from this place, you find that the lofty Mount Elias is separated from the plain by two nearly parallel waves of land, which are indeed joined at the northern end by a curving saddle, but elsewhere are divided by deep gorges. The loftier and shorter wave forms the rocky citadel of Mycenae the Argion, as it was once called.

I need not attempt a fresh description of the Great Treasury. It is in no sense a rude building, or one of a helpless and barbarous age, but, on the contrary, the product of enormous appliances, and of a perfect knowledge of all the mechanical requirements for any building, if we except the application of the arch. The stones are hewn square, or curved to form the circular dome within, with admirable exactness. Above the enormous lintel-stone, nearly twenty-seven feet long, and which is doubly grooved, by way of ornament, all along its edge over the doorway, there is now a triangular window or aperture, which was certainly filled with some artistic carving like the analogous space over the lintel in the gate of the Acropolis. Shortly after Lord Elgin had cleared the entrance, Gell and Dodwell found various pieces of green and red marble carved with geometrical patterns, some of which are reproduced in Dodwell’s book. Gell also found some fragments in a neighboring chapel, and others axe said to be built into a wall at Nauplia. There are supposed to have been short columns standing on each side in front of thc gate, with some ornament surmounting them; but this seems to me to rest on doubtful evidence, and on theoretical reconstruction. Dr. Schliemann, however, asserts them to have been found at the entrance of the second treasury which Mrs. Schliemann excavated, tho his account is somewhat vague. There is the strongest architectural reason for the triangular aperture over the door, as it diminishes the enormous weight to be borne by the lintel; and here, no doubt, some ornament very like lions on the other gate may have been applied.

There has been much controversy about the use to which this building was applied, and we can not now attempt to change the name, even if we could prove its absurdity. Pausanias, who saw Mycenae in the second century A.D., found it in much the same state as we do, and was no better informed than we, tho he tells us the popular belief that this and its fellows were treasure-houses like that of the Minyae at Orchomenus, which was very much greater, and was, in his opinion, one of the most wonderful things in all Greece.

Standing at the entrance, you look out upon the scattered masonry of the walls of Mycenae, on the hillock over against you. Close behind this is a dark and solemn chain of mountains. The view is narrow and confined, and faces the north, so that, for most of the day, the gate is dark and in shadow. We can conceive no fitter place for the burial of a king, within sight of his citadel, in the heart of a deep natural hillock, with a great solemn portal symbolizing the resistless strength of the barrier which he had passed into an unknown land. But one more remark seems necessary. This treasure-house is by no means a Greek building in its features. It has the same perfection of construction which can be seen at Eleutherae, or any other Greek fort, but still the really analogous buildings are to be found in far distant lands—in the raths of Ireland, and the barrows of the Crimea.

“And yet how lovely in thine age of woe, Land of lost gods and godlike men, are thou! Thy vales of evergreen, thy hills of snow, Proclaim thee Nature’s varied favourite now: Thy fanes, thy temples to the surface bow, Commingling slowly with heroic earth, Broke by the share of every rustic plough:

“Yet are thy skies as blue, thy crags as wild: Sweet are thy groves, and verdant are thy fields, Thine olives ripe as when Minerva smiled, And still his honeyed wealth Hymettus yields; There the blithe bee his fragrant fortress builds, The freeborn wanderer of thy mountain air; Apollo still thy long, long summer gilds,

Still in his beam Mendeli’s marbles glare;

Art, Glory, Freedom fail, but Nature still is fair.” —From Byron’s “Childe Harold.”