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Visit to Mycenae and Nafplio

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 10 May 2014

Saturday 10 May, visit to Mycenae and Nafplio

For today we have 2 things planned: a visit to ancient Mycenae and then a visit to Nafplio. But first of all a relaxed breakfast on our terrace between the fragrant flowers. We have to drive back a long way to the north. The remnants of ancient Mycenae are located about one kilometer north of the present-day town with the same name where only 450 inhabitants live while some 600,000 visitors visit the old city each year..
Mycene is very different from the other known Greek excavations and was once the center of the so-called Mycenaean civilization that had its heyday between 1,400 and 1,200 BC, a bit earlier than the famous city states of Athens and Sparta or the oracle of Delfi. In Greece you can not escape lessons in history but for that I have my own guide (Teije) who gets really excited when something is older than a few hundred years.
The city plays a role in the stories about the war against Troy, the king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, was the commander-in-chief of the Greek army. Personally, I find history interesting but I also forget a lot again so I am not going to give out all kinds of information that can also be found extensively on the internet.
Tholos tomb at Mycenae Tholos tomb at MycenaeWe first walk to the treasury of Atreus, which is not a treasure house but a tholos grave or a dome-shaped grave. One Mr. Schliemann, a self-made amateur archelologist who is best known as the discoverer of Troy, also excavated in this place and found, among other things, a golden mask that he ascribed to Agamemnon. His interpretations were almost all wrong (the mask was not from Agamemnon and the treasury was not a treasure house and certainly not from Atreus) and he did not work very ethically, but he was invaluable to archeology by everything he discovered.
This is a tholosgrave whithout the roof so you can see how it was built up.
Lion gate of Mycenae Lion gate of MycenaeThe remnants of the city that we can still see are of the royal castle where only the leaders and nobles lived, very different from the later Greek civilization. The castle is surrounded by a 900 meter long and 6 meter thick wall of which the Lion Gate is the most famous part: two lionesses standing opposite each other although they have unfortunately lost their head to vandals.
This seems the oldest monumental sculpture in Europe and it is surely impressive when you walk through it. These ruins are very different from what we have seen so far, here everything seems to radiate power and strenght while the buildings in Athens, Corinth and Epidaurus were much more refined, as if there was more time and money to spend on art and style and less on war and struggle. But of course we have seen very little until now.
Ruins of Mycenae Ruins of MycenaeI am not a connoisseur of antiquities but I notice that everything here is large, to impress or to scare. The Acropolis in Athens and the theater in Epidaurus are even more impressive because of their artistry, here everything is cumbersome and massive. It seems that after the fall of the Mycenaean civilization, around 1,100 BC, there were some kind of dark Middle Ages in Greece and it took a few hundred years before the Greek civilization was formed that we now see as the forerunner of Western civilization.
Ruins of Mycenae Gate at MycenaeWe are so accustomed to our civilization and culture, and we try to make history a logical sequence of discoveries and progress, but Mycenae is one of the examples that show that history is not a slow progress but one with leaps and bounds, forward and backward. Civilizations come and go and often there are dark intervals. Mycenae itself also has some dark stories, just look at the history of the family of Atreus, his son Agamemnon, his wife Klytaimnestra and what they have done to each other. Beautiful reading material and the reality shows and crime series of today can hardly match!
Olive groves around MycenaeLike all the fortified fortresses in the whole world, Mycenae is also situated on a hill and from here we have a good view over the orchards with olive trees that cover the surrounding land. And as a final part of this visit we visit the museum where many excavated objects can be seen, although the most beautiful and important finds, such as a golden death mask (erroneously attributed to Agamemnon by Schliemann), are exhibited at the National Museum in Athens. I am always amazed that so much pottery still comes out of the ground unharmed after so many centuries.
It is very hot on the excavation and we walk around for quite a long time because it is not only impressive but also a large place. So first drink before we go to the next stop, but that is not easy with the big crowd of tourists walking around here. With a little effort we get some (dirty) coffee and sit down on an ancient wall to drink it.
The port of Nafplio The port of NafplioAnd then to Nafplio, which after the Greek War of Independence (1821-1827) was the first city to be liberated from the Turkish occupation and temporarily the capital of the Free Greek Kingdom (1829 to 1835). Because the Greek letters are different than ours, you can write it in different ways, but Nafplio comes closest phonetically (or maybe Navplio) and you can also add an end-n if you want, so Nafplion. A few days ago it was raining here, and although we are now arriving with a bright blue sky, it is now starting to get clouded again. We can park the car near the harbor and go for a walk.
The port of NafplioThe center and the port are located on a peninsula that protrudes a bit in the Argolic Gulf. There are mainly fishing boats and a single luxury yacht and of the value of it would probably be able to spend years on holiday.
From the harbor we can see Bourtzi, an island with a Venetian castle from the 14th century. It seems that from there you have a beautiful view of the city and the Palamidi castle above it, but we do not feel like going there now. Nafplio is praised in many travel guides as one of the most beautiful towns in the Peloponnese.
Parliament building in Nafplio Syntagma Square in NafplioThe main square is the Constitution Square, not far from the harbor, a cozy marble square with terraces and views of the parliament building that was used in the 19th century when Nafplio was temporarily the capital of free Greece until Athens became the new capital. (only because of the past of Athens because it was not much bigger than Nafplio at the time). Although the town lives mainly from tourism because of its proximity to ancient sites such as Epiaurus and Mycenae, it is still rather quiet and pleasant to walk through.
Colorful street in NafplioAround the square are a number of shopping streets that are beautifully colored with flowers and the bright colors of tourist accessories at the many souvenir shops where you can buy almost everything. It looks as if every store has a tourist section attached to it, one more than the other. The Greeks are also super friendly and totally not intrusive and it is wonderful to walk the narrow alleys. In one way or another, narrow streets give a certain intimate atmosphere to these kinds of places, I personally think, something cuddly.
Agios Georgios, Nafplio Palamidi castle, NafplioOn the Palimidi Hill, the 18th century Palamidi castle, built by the Venetians, towers above the city. Later we read somewhere that a train would drive to the bastion on the 216 meter high hill, but we didin't see the train otherwise we would have gone up for the view. But we do not want to climb the 857 (913 according to other sources) stairs to the top. The legend says that originally there were exactly 999.
The origin of the name Palamidi is also a special story, Palamedes was the son of Nafplios after whom the city is named.
King Odysseus did not feel like going to Troy to make war there and pretended he was insane but was unmasked by Palamedes and had to go anyway. Palamedes would have invent the game of chess and playing dice to avoid boredom amongst the soldiers during the 10-year siege of Troy. Odysseus, however, took his revenge by hiding money in Palamedes tent and accusing him of theft after which Palamedes was sentenced to death and was stoned. Yes, nice guys, those old Greeks.
Staikos Staikopoulos statue Park in NafplioThere are several parks in Nafplio and in the Staikopoulos park there is a statue of this man who in 1822 conquered the Palamidi castle from the Turks. Another heroine from the Greek War of Independence is Bouboulina who used her wealth to convert her merchant ships into a war fleet to fight against the Turks and was also commander on one of her own ships, the Agamemnon. In 1821 she was personally in charge of the siege of Nafplio and ultimately ensured that Nafplio was liberated. But her fortune was gone, and not much later she was murdered by the father of a girl who had been abducted by her son. In the course of time all sorts of romantic legends have been formed around her and she is still a symbol for Greece such as Joan of Arc is for the French.
Although the war of independence has been waged almost 2 centuries ago, it is still very lively in the memory of the Greeks and everywhere you can find references to this time that seems to be glorified as a tragic but also heroic period. We can understand the urge for independence, but the idealization of any struggle is never good in my opinion, that only drives groups of people apart.
After this fascinating day we look for a restaurant where we have something to eat and then we go back to our apartment along the winding coastal roads.


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