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A tour of Mycenaean Tiryns

The Mycenaean palace of Tiryns (Τίρυνθα), located in the Argolid between Argos and Nafplio, has been known since ancient times for its impressive fortifications, made of stones so large they were said to have been built by the Cyclopes. It’s a site well worth visiting if you’re in the area, and after a recent trip there, I thought I’d share some photos and information here as a virtual tour.

Photograph of tall stone fortification wall, with river bed to left and blocks of stone on ground in front
anoramic view of the fortifications of Tiryns from near the north end of the lower citadel; the upper citadel is to the right

View of ramp sloping up outside the fortification wall
Entrance ramp and fortification wall

You enter the site near the north end and walk alongside the fortification wall of the lower citadel. Tiryns was inhabited from the Neolithic to the Byzantine period, but almost all of what you’ll see now dates from the end of the Late Bronze Age Mycenaean period (c.1250-1200 BCE). At this time, Tiryns was about 1km away from the sea (the coast is now about twice as far away), and finds of objects from all around the Eastern Mediterranean show that it had an important function as a trading harbour. About halfway along the hill is the way up to the citadel: originally, this was a highly defensible entrance consisting of a narrow ramp with a 90-degree right-turn at the top to pass through the wall into the inner passageway – not something you’d want to try doing as an attacker with defenders inside shooting or throwing spears at you. Now, however, the ramp is fenced off and you enter through a large gap in the wall. To the right is the lower citadel: the remains are not as thoroughly exposed here as on the upper citadel, but you can see the fortification walls with defensive embrasures, the north gate and a small postern gate to its left, entranceways to two underground cisterns to provide water in case of siege, and the foundations of buildings used for administration, storage, or craft activities related to the needs of the palatial authorities.

In the foreground is open grassy space and a gravel path, beyond which are building foundations and a fortification wall with several openings.
anoramic view of the lower citadel from near the entrance

Retrace your steps back to the entrance and the passage up to the upper citadel which was to your left as you entered: this leads up between two high walls, past the entrance from the outer ramp, through a gateway where you can still see the fittings for a gate and a bar to keep it closed in the two massive stones on either side.

Passage between fortification walls built of large stones, leading to a gateway with a very large stone upright on each side, in which grooves for a gate and (in the left-hand stone) a hole for a bar are visible
iew down the inner passage to the citadel from inside the gates

Continuing down the passage brings you through another gate and then, on the right, to the entrance porch to the palace proper: passing between the columns at the front and back of this porch, you’re now in the first palace courtyard. The area to the left, which includes two galleries built into the walls, is (at time of writing) closed off for restoration. Turning to the right, you have a choice of routes: the corridor immediately to your right leads through the palace, via a series of courtyards, to the Little Megaron (throne room): Tiryns has two throne rooms, the smaller of which is sometimes known as the ‘Queen’s Megaron’, but we don’t know for certain what the relationship between these two rooms actually was. In the courtyard outside the Little Megaron, you can see a curved wall visible at a lower level: this is part of a much earlier building, the Early Helladic ‘Circular Building’, which dates to c.2500-2200 BCE and is the first known monumental construction at this site. A circular building of c.28m in diameter, it’s entirely unique at this time period, but presumably functioned as a fortified centre of political power similar in some ways to the much later Mycenaean palace.

Remains of a building with a curved outer wall in the foreground, at a lower level than the surrounding remains, with a wall and fence between them. Paved rooms are visible in the background
he Early Helladic Circular Building, with the Little Megaron behind

Heading back along the corridor to the courtyard, you can now pass through the next short corridor to the right or, at the far end of the courtyard, through another columned porch to the second courtyard, this one surrounded by a colonnade and containing an altar.

iew of the Great Megaron (throne room and vestibule) from the porch

Ahead and slightly to the right is yet another porch, leading to a vestibule and then finally to the Great Megaron, with its large circular hearth surrounded by four pillars and a throne to the right (the locations of the hearth and throne are marked out on the floor). More than in any other Mycenaean palace, Tiryns seems to show a particular emphasis on the progression through different areas of the palace – two gates, outer porch and courtyard, inner porch and courtyard – towards this central seat of power, whether as a means of drawing people gradually in to this focal point, and/or as a means of marking out precisely who has the rank/power to enter as far as particular points along the way. The walls which form a rectangular shape overlaying that of the megaron are the outline of a later building constructed over half of the megaron immediately after the destruction of the palace around 1200 BCE: this building incorporated the location of the throne but lacked the central hearth, and seems to have stood alone on the upper citadel, functioning as a lone monumental building rather than the heart of a palatial complex – a significant change, even while the site continued to be occupied for some time after the palace’s destruction.

The most notable feature of the complex of rooms to the left of the megaron is the ‘bathroom’: a large slab of stone forming a floor, with sockets around the edges for walls and a drain in one corner. Following the path through this area brings to the exit from the citadel and probably its most impressive piece of fortification: the West Staircase, enclosed in a curved bastion wall whose outer part is several metres thick, leading down to a corbelled doorway.

A large square slab of stone with pairs of socket holes around the edges; at the far corner there is a small drain sloping off the slab into a larger drainage area
he bathroom, looking towards the drain

he West Staircase

As you walk back alongside the fortifications, bear in mind all the remains you can’t see. The citadel of Tiryns was not an isolated fortification, but was surrounded by a substantial settlement, whose remains are not visible, while the many finds of pottery, metal, frescos, Linear B tablets, etc are not displayed at the site – some (including some of the tablets) can be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Nafplio, just down the road, while others (including frescos and the base of the throne) are in the Prehistoric gallery of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens: both also well worth a visit before or after your trip to Tiryns!

Scene of a wild boar facing right with legs outstretched in front and behind, and three running dogs attacking it from behind. The boar is striped brown and yellow, and the dogs are white with black or brown spots and wear red collars. At right a person's hand is visible holding a spear which sticks into the boar's head. The background is blue witih tall white plants. Original fresco fragments in darker colours are surrounded by reconstructed elements in lighter colours
econstructed fresco of dogs hunting a boar from Tiryns, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Museum case containing clay human figurines, clay vessels, and a piece of stucco painted with blue birds
inds from Tiryns and other Mycenaean sites in the Argolid, Nafplio Archaeological Museum

For anyone aiming to visit Tiryns in person, information opening hours, prices, etc is available here; the site has is a ticket office and toilets but no other facilities. There is also very little information available on site – only a map in the upper citadel and a few signboards about the ongoing restoration project. The site is located just off the main Argos-Nafplio road; buses will stop by the turning on request (ask for αρχαία Τίρυνθα “arhaia Tirintha”, ancient Tiryns). For more general information on the archaeology of Tiryns, see the Oxford Classical Dictionary and the Dartmouth Aegean Prehistory site’s ‘lessons’ on Mycenaean palatial architecture and on fortifications.

his project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 885977.

#Greece #MycenaeanGreece #BronzeAgeGreece #citadel #LinearB #Argolid #virtualtour #Nafplio #Tiryns #Travel #palace

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