The fortified palace complex of Mycenae, uncovered by the archeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1874, is one of the earliest examples of sophisticated citadel architecture. The site was inhabited since Neolithic times (about 4000 BCE) but reached its height as the center of Aegean Civilization in about 1400 BCE, dominated before that time by the Minoans from Crete. The term "Mycenaean" applies to an entire civilization spanning the years 1700-1100 BCE which spread throughout the Greek world. The legendary home of the Atreus, Mycenae is situated upon a small hill-top on the lower slopes of Euboea Mountain, between two of its peaks. Only the ruling class inhabited this hilltop palace, with artisans and merchants living just outside the city walls. In the age described in the epics of the Greek poet Homer, Mycenae was the home of King Agamemnon and the leading city in the Greek world. In 1100 BCE Mycenae was destroyed by fire. About 100 years later the Dorians invaded from the north, replacing the Mycenaean civilization, and the city never regained its former splendor. In about 468 BCE, Mycenae was besieged and destroyed by the inhabitants of Argos and the city was not rebuilt. The primary remains at Mycenae are walls and tombs. The palace itself has largely been destroyed.

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The Lion's GateThe Lion's Gate and part of the fortress walls at Mycenae. The gate was erected in c. 1250 BCE when the walls of the fortress were realigned to enclose Grave Circle A. The walkway to the gate, about 15 m long and 7 m wide, is flanked by high walls which would have allowed the defenders ample opportunity to hurl missiles at anyone approaching the gateway.

Detail of Lion friezeDetail of the frieze above the lintel of the Lion Gate.  The imposing stone relief from which the gate takes its name -- two heraldic lions, three meters tall, standing at a Minoan column -- lends an air of rugged grandeur to the acropolis entrance. It is the oldest example of monumental sculpture in Europe.

Lion's GateThe Lion's Gate as seen from the walls of the fortress. The individual blocks of the walls are gigantic. In fact, the lintel stone upon which the lions rest, is estimated at 12 tons. The gate granted the only access to the palace.
Lion's Gate and Grave Circle AThe Lion's Gate and Grave Circle A. Grave Circle AGrave Circle A. Looking down the hill from Grave Circle A, the walls are evident, along with the foundations of buildings constructed close by the circle. Houses Houses located outside the Cyclopean walls, up to 14 m (46 ft) wide, of the fortress.
Grave Circle AGrave Circle A contained six royal family shaft graves, 1-4 meters deep, containing 19 bodies and 14 kg (31 lb) of gold funerary goods. A double ring wall, clearly visible here, enclosed the graves themselves. Grave Circle AGrave Circle A. Many of the finds from Grave Circle A, dating from the 16th century BCE, are on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. View from the palaceView from the royal palace showing Grave Circle A and houses in the background.
View from the megaronView from top of the megaron, the social heart of the Royal Palace. Megaron's floorsThe megaron. A megaron is a "great room" usually consisting of a front porch with two supporting columns, then an inner ante-chamber, and finally the large room at the back with a hearth usually in the center, surrounded by 4 columns. Situated at the acropolis summit, only the floors remain of this central structure. Burn marks dating to its destruction in 1200 BCE are still visible on the stone. Megaron's circular hearthThe megaron. There is little left of the distinctive Mycenaean megaron with its circular hearth. This picture does highlight the locations of the columns that would have helped support the roof, with its opening above the hearth.
View of MycenaeView of the walls of Mycenae. Later Greeks would describe these walls as Cyclopean, since they were built of stones so large only a Cyclops could move them. View of the acropolis of MycenaeView of the acropolis of Mycenae showing the successive fortification walls built of Cyclopean masonry, which consists of huge irregular blocks of stone joined without mortar. The postern gateThe postern gate.
The dromosThe dromos (entrance passage) to the tomb of Atreus, a.k.a. The Treasury of Atreus situated at the southern end of the site. Symbolically the tholos ("beehive") is associated with the earth mother, goddess of fertility and life. The walls of the dromos are twenty feet apart and more than 36 m (120 ft) long. They are made of regular ashlar blocks. This is the best preserved of the 9 tholos tombs at Mycenae. Tomb of AtreusThe Mycenaean tholos tomb of Atreus. The design of the relieving triangle, a Mycenaean signature detail designed to absorb structural stress, helps archaeologists date this tomb to c. 1350 BCE. Over the door are two lintel blocks, one on the outside, the second on the inside. The inside block weighs about one hundred tons. It is still not known how the Mycenaeans hoisted the stones into place. The height of the entrance to above the relieving triangle is more than thirty-five feet. The doorway is eighteen feet high. Originally the facade was dressed with half columns and relief slabs. The monumental doorwayInside the monumental doorway (the entrance is 5 meters thick) of the tholos chamber. The height of the roof is 13 m (45 ft) and the round chamber is 14.5 m (48 ft) in diameter. The doorway is about the same width as the Lion Gate, but twice as high.
The ossuaryInside the tomb of Atreus is a small (8 1/4 meters square) ossuary ( second chamber)  appended to the tholos chamber that held the bones from previous burials. Roof of tholos tombThe vault of the tholos. The tholos was built using 33 successive circles of masonry, each level nudged inward to narrow the diameter until the top was closed with a single stone. This sophisticated building technique may have come from the Egyptians.

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