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Poros 2007 -
Our September Fortnight in Greece

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An Afternoon at Mycenae, Tiryns and Nauplion -
19th September 2007


  • The Mycenaean Bridge.
  • Nauplion and the Palamide Fortress.
  • Tiryns, Home of Helen and Menelaus.
  • Fans, Batteries and Mykenis.
  • Murderous Mycenae.
  • The Ruins of The Palace.
  • The Treasury of Atreus.
  • Nauplion, the Harbour and the Lidl.
  • Return to Poros.
  • The Souvlakis and The Asteria.

Jenny at the Lion Gate at the Palace of Mycenae
Jenny at the Lion Gate at the Palace of Mycenae

The Mycenaean Bridge :

We left the Asklepion at about 12 noon, stopping briefly in the little town of Ligourio for water, before heading for the town of Nauplion, for a long time the capital of modern Greece. As the hills opened out and water became more available, the land became a mass of olive tree orchards. Sun, soil and water, make this an excellent source of olive oil, in ancient times as vital to the economy as petroleum is to modern transport and industry. The importance and ancient history of this road were underlined by a rare and unusual monument; Dennis warned me to be on the watch for an ancient Mycenaean bridge, one of the very few left standing. The modern road passes beside the ancient one, and at the inner tip of a 'hairpin' in the road, we paused briefly for a good shot of the bridge, looking little more than a culvert but with very identifiable design. The Romans perfected the keystone arch and the Byzantines the barrel vault, but the Mycenaeans worked out that a triangular 'arch' could be constructed by stones leaning towards one another.

The Mycenaean Bridge, near Lygourio
The Mycenaean Bridge, near Lygourio
Palamide Fortress, Nauplion
Palamide Fortress, Nauplion
Nauplion and Palamide Fortress
Nauplion and Palamide Fortress

Nauplion and the Palamide Fortress :

Nauplion is mostly a modern town, but towering above it to the south there is a massive ridge, crowned by the Palamide fortress and very nearly impregnable, 999 steps up from the town - or a taxi ride up a steep winding track. Dennis stopped to let me take pictures, although I was starting to worry about a pair of failing rechargeable camera batteries. Nauplion itself is a very pretty provincial Greek town, with the same kind of grid plan as Piraeus, but better kept and with trees down the streets. I was later to learn that Nauplion had suffered in the Greek Revolution (War of Liberation) and that the first Governor of Greece, Iannis Kapodistrias, had been murdered outside a local church. At the time, on the way out of Nauplion, I spotted a World War II vintage pillbox, but whether Greek or German I could not be certain - alas, no picture of this relic.

Tiryns, Home of Helen and Menelaus :

Helen 'of Troy' had lived north of Nauplion in the Mycenaean fortress of Tiryns, a battered oval of stone on a ridge that we could not stop at, though I took some shots of it from the car then and during the return. In a nutshell, Helen was the fairest woman in Greece and was abducted/eloped by/with Paris, younger son of King Priam of Troy. Her husband Menelaos got his brother Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, to assemble a group of allies and for various reasons they besieged and sacked Troy. Menelaos got his wife back, but Agamemnon - ah, I run ahead of myself, there.

Tiryns north end, from car park
Tiryns north end, from car park
Tiryns west side, from car park
Tiryns west side, from car park
Fruit Orchards and Frost Fans
Fruit Orchards and Frost Fans

Fans, Batteries and Mykenis :

Whilst there is a bus service from Galatas to Nauplion, there is no way to reach Mycenae from Nauplion except by car or by taxi. This is odd, because Mycenae is possibly the most dramatic site outside Athens area, a massive favourite for touriosts of all nations. The approach is through fruit orchards on the Argolid plateau, a place where frost can be a problem. The canny Greeks realised that frost forms mainly in still air, so to save fruit blossoms from frost, they have installed hundreds of fans on towers ten to fifteen metres high. Used as I am to seeing wind-turbines in Scotland, Cumbria Wales and Cornwall, I was surprised at seeing them in solar-powered Greece; Dennis and Frances gave me knowing grins as they explained what I was looking at. Then followed one of the most frustrating of times for me, because both my sets of camera batteries had gone flat. Dismayed, I could only hope to purchase AA batteries in Mykenis or at the Mycenae site - with fears of high cost and poor quality.

Mykenis is the modern town, some distance from the fortress site, a fairly sleepy Greek village with an eye to tourism. We were through it almost as soon as we entered, so I made the natural comment. "Small place, this." Dennis, master of straightfaced deadpan humour, indicated a graveyard. "No, that's the dead centre of Mykenis."

Back into Mykenis, where I noticed 'Klytemnestra' bed and breakfast, and wondered if it was safe to stay there or if it was run by a widow - more about Klytie later. However, the town did have a good general store, where I bought a pack of four Duracell Gold Seal batteries for the decent price of 3.20 Euros. Frances and Dennis decided we needed to eat (past 1 pm) so we went to the 'Achilleus' Taverna and had four helpings of mince and spaghetti (bolognese) for 5 Euros each. The menu had other promising items, but we had to carry on to Mycenae.

Mycenae Site Entrance and Coach Park
Mycenae Site Entrance and Coach Park
Western Walls of Palace of Mycenae
Walls of Palace of Mycenae
North Tower of Palace Wall, Mycenae
North Tower of Palace Wall

Murderous Mycenae :

Mycenae, to put it briefly, is the newspaper tabloid drama capital of Greece.
'Wife kills husband with axe, knifes mistress'.
That's angry Klytemnestra, who murdered her husband Agamemnon when he returned from Troy with Cassandra, the unhappy sister of Paris. Mind you, Agamemnon had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to get a good wind to take the Greeks to Troy, so her anger is understandable. Less acceptably, she married Aegistheus and had his assistance in killing Agamemnon. She tried to dispose of her son by Agamemnon, but second daughter Elektra smuggled him out and sent him away into exile. Next headline -
'Son and daughter kill mother and her lover'.
Orestes comes home with a pal after a few years, puts a sword through Aegistheus and his old mum, then takes to his heels. Later he gets excused the matricide in a trial at the Areopagus in Athens, and comes home, to marry his cousin Hermione, daughter of Menelaos and Helen. His son Tisamenos finally loses Mycenae, killed in wars with the invading Dorians.
With a background like that, it isn't surprising that a lot of people turn up to look at Mycenae, but the next bit is almost better still.

In 1868 the famous German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of the site of Troy, came to Mycenae and there excavated the 'shaft graves', deep trenches with the burials of ancient royalty of Mycenae. Schliemann found beaten-gold deathmasks over some graves, including one he incorrectly called 'the Death Mask of Agamemnon'. The finds are now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Other finds include fresco fragments and jewellery, which make it clear that the full-skirted women did not wear much above the waist, the styles being similar to those of ancient Crete. Very page three.

All these matters - four murders, treachery, golden treasures and drama - together make Mycenae an object of horrified fascination for anybody interested in Greek history. The Athenian Theatres and the Theatre of Asklepeios saw performances of plays based on the legendary murders, so founding the 'whodunnit' industry that delights any woman with a drop of blood in her veins. We saw at least a dozen coaches drawn up at the car park, the quantity remaining fairly constant with regular replacements.

Grave Circle A Enclosure
Grave Circle A Enclosure
Shaft Graves (Grave Circle A)
Shaft Graves (Grave Circle A)
Lustration Stone for ritual cleansing
Lustration Stone for ritual cleansing

The Ruins of The Palace :

Despite the cack-handed digging of such as Schliemann, a lot of the structure of the Palace and fortress survives to look at, including the marvellous 'Lion Gate' at the entrance to the fortress. The shaft grave sites lie inside a curious double-ring of stone slabs to the right of the gate, almost like a fortress intended to hold in the spirits of those buried there. Jen and myself were left by Dennis and Frances to go and look around (entry fee a modest 4 Euros each, although I also later bought the guidebook) so we had the joys of exploration. The site has a good array of information boards, so the graves, the adjacent Cult Centre and the Palace further up the hill, were easily understood. The heat was quite great and shade was at a premium, but the views out over the Argolid Plain were remarkable.

The top of the hill holds the Palace of Mycenae, an interlocking group of buildings around the central building (Megaron) which held the Throne of the King and the Sacred Hearth of the Kingdom. The 'throne room' or domos was approached from two outer sections, the 'antechamber' or prodomos and an outer 'porch', peristyle, the aithousa. I was rather amused by a blue plastic tent set up in the 'throne room', which reminded me of the shelters used by Police at Scenes of Crime. It occurred to me that some jobsworth of an official, finding incomplete paperwork, may have instructed the local officers to re-investigate the murder of Agamemnon.

Cult Centre Buildings, Palace of Mycenae
Cult Centre Buildings, Mycenae
Megaron and Throne Room, Palace of Mycenae
Megaron and Throne Room, Mycenae
Jenny Examining the Scene of the Crime
Jenny Examining the Scene of the Crime

Beyond the Palace, on its western side and flanked by stream gorges, is a courtyard that gives access from the citadel to an underground spring. I found it fascinating, mainly because the entry was in shape not unlike that bridge seen earlier. The tunnel was unlit and dark, but a flash photo at the first turning revealed a well-made passage descending even further down, a diagram in the courtyard indicating a descent to a well. The well was fed by a hidden aqueduct and would have been vital in time of siege.

Fun though the Palace was, we had to leave to meet Frances and Dennis, so satisfied ourselves with a visit to the toilets, forgetting the Museum. I would nevertheless visit the Museums at both Epidauros and Mycenae, to gain a fuller picture of life in them. I got the impression that most people were more interested in the lurid end of the royal family and the view, than in the people who made it all work - the common folk and the handful of craftsmen, priests and merchants. There still seems to be investigation going on into the settlement of these simpler folk, in the valley below the fortress and Palace. In the classical and Roman periods, a quite extensive town developed, its limits marked out by field walls.

Plain of Argolis from Mycenae
Plain of Argolis from Mycenae
Cistern of Hellenistic Era
Cistern of Hellenistic Era
Entry to Underground Well Stairway, Mycenae
Entry to Underground Well Stairway

Underground Well Stairway, Mycenae
Underground Well Stairway, Mycenae
Underground Well Passage, Mycenae
Underground Well Passage, Mycenae
Jenny Guarding the North (Postern) Gate
Jenny Guarding the North (Postern) Gate

The Treasury of Atreus :

Dennis and Frances had felt that it would be worth our while visiting the best of the massive tombs half-excavated, half-tunnelled, into the hills in and around Mycenae. Later than the shaft graves, these 'Tholos Tombs' were not those of the people they are called after, but are interesting from their architecture. The tomb entrance has a massive 'relieving arch' of stnes corbelled inwards so the upper ones eventually meet. This ingenious trick meant that the lintel above the entrance did not have to support more than itself, and is the next stage in developent of an arch.

We were very thirsty and managed to get freshly-pressed orange juices from a stand at the Treasury of Atreus, before returning to the car for the trip back past Tiryns to Nauplion. This time I got pictures of the fans and more distant shots of Tiryns from a car park at its northwestern end; the structure was similar to the Cyclopean walls of Mycenae.

For more about Mycenae (and some more dirt on the House of Atreus) go to More details >>>.

Back to the Lion Gate
Back to the Lion Gate
Top of 'Lion' Tholos Tomb
Top of 'Lion' Tholos Tomb
Site of ancient Town of Mycenae
Site of ancient Town of Mycenae
'Treasury of Atreus' Tholos Tomb, Mycenae
'Treasury of Atreus' Tholos Tomb
Tiryns : Southern End, Nauplion
Tiryns : Southern End
'Vestas' Wind Turbine Masts, Nauplion
'Vestas' Wind Turbine Masts, Nauplion

Nauplion, the Harbour and the Lidl :

The old town of Nauplion was occupied by the Venetians for a considerable time whilst the Byzantine Empire was on the wane, so there are many old buildings that are of Italianate appearance. Dennis drove us past these and onto the harbourside, where I saw four interesting features. The first were the remains of an old railway station, with engine and carriages but no line, this having long been closed. The second thing was the massive Palamide fortress, looking very like Edinburgh Castle up on its precipitous rock. The third feature was the island fortress guarding the harbour, looking similar to St. Mawes in Cornwall; this fortress was taken by the Greeks from the Turks during the Revolution. The fourth and last feature was one that Dennis quietly grinned about; it was a harbourside yard holding massive steel asts lying on their sides, the name 'Vestas' on their sides. No, not matches, but the support towers for wind turbines, to be erected in this area.

Frances and Dennis come fairly frequently to Nauplion, mainly by bus, as it is the only decent shopping centre other than Aegina. Dennis parked the car outside the local Lidl, for all the world like visiting the Morrison or Tesco in Dumfries, then they vanished inside, leaving me to guard the car and write up my notes on the blog. When they re-emerged, some time later, it was with copious quantities of (non-Greek) red wine. Apparently, it is the local habit for residents of Poros to buy supermarket goods in Nauplion to bring back to Galatas and Poros for friends and relatives; no doubt this social habit will continue until Lidl open a branch in Galatas.

Harbour Castle, Nauplion
Harbour Castle, Nauplion
Nature Reserve near Trizina
Nature Reserve near Trizina
Naval Academy Chapel of TE Poros
Naval Academy Chapel of TE Poros

Back to Poros :

In view of the hill road to Galatas from Nauplion, I am amazed that Dennis did not fortify himself with a drink whilst being rather glad that he did not. The road was all hairpin bends and roadside shrines, where less-careful drivers had lost their lives. On the way Dennis pulled in for another shot at the Mycenaean Bridge, before we forked south from the Epidauros road onto the road to Galatas. After a hairpin with three shrines upon it, I started to feel very nervous, but Dennis was a courageous soul and delivered us safely to Pop's in Galatas at about 6:20 pm. I was feeling very grateful to Dennis for his driving, because the poor lad had never tackled the old hill road to Galatas before, a matter he and Frances only revealed when we were descending into the coastal plain near Trizina. Once back on the coastal road I managed to take pictures of the Nature Reserve and the mysterious caravan on the house, reproduced here for your disbelief as much as my own.

Getting back to the Hotel took a little time, partly because of taking care of the wine, but Dennis diverted to a place near the Mermaid so I could take a good picture of the TE Poros chapel, a beautiful building that is only open to the public on rare Open Days.

The Souvlakis and The Asteria :

Jen and myself showered once back at the Hotel, thoroughly exhausted, but recovered after a cup of tea and dressed in fresh clothes for the evening out. Jen put on her lovely top with the green cropped trousers and looked very wow. It seemed a bit of a come-down, but we enjoyed wraps at the Corner Cafe - 5.6 Euros for two pork wraps, a quarter-carafe of wine and some water - and then went to the Asteria for chocolate, coffee and a sort of baklava.

We discussed the events of the day and it was definitely the high point of our holiday. Mycenae is definitely the home of the crime thriller and Tiryns of the love story/triangle (which has to have a Paris trip in it somewhere). Epidauros remains the home of the hospital in Western Europe and of modern drama. The problem is that to reach the best sites you need either to be on an organised tour or to use a hire car. A bus to Nauplion and a taxi to Mycenae or Tiryns might work. As it was, we owe Dennis and Frances a big vote of thanks for acting as our couriers to reach these sites. We will definitely visit the Asklepeieon of Epidauros and the town of Naplion again, and maybe look for flamingos at the Nature Reserve.

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© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.