Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Treasury of Atreus

The sunken beehive-shaped structure below the walls of Mycenae known as the Treasury of Atreus, or sometimes the Tomb of Agamemnon, is the largest of the nine θόλος tombs outside the city walls. It is impossible to rate my impressions of all the wonderful things I saw in Greece, but this was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. It sits on the left side of the road approaching Mycenae, so we could see the commanding position of the citadel above us as we pulled off the road to see the treasury first. Just as we arrived at the site, a tour group was leaving, so we had the site to ourselves for perhaps twenty or thirty minutes.

The stonework is awesome. These stones were cut and placed with remarkable precision many centuries before the grand structures of the classical period, and even today they remain in perfect condition, with hairline seams between the monstrous blocks. The retaining walls defining the dromos, or entryway, grow taller and more imposing as you approach the entrance; it runs a length of 36m and is 6m wide. The lintel stone alone weighs 120 tons. As I walked through the doorway, my eyes adjusted from the bright sunshine outside, and the pitch darkness gave way, revealing a marvelous and solemn circular space, 14.6m in diameter and 13.4m high, with 33 courses of stone creating a perfect dome. There is a side chamber, 6m square and 5m high, with the same void triangle above the entrance that appears above the main doorway; it helps to relieve weight from the lintel stone. The side chamber was roped off and completely dark; I took a picture with a flash, but it shows little more than your imagination would.

Along the perimeter are some stones which provided lovely seating as I sat and read from my edition of the Iliad for a few minutes, enjoying a quiet moment in the shade of the blistering sun, overwhelmed by the bronze age history, and the more recent tradition of professional and amateur visitors who have documented the structure ad nauseam. I could have sat there all day in the cool air and read from Homer with occasional glances up to the pinnacle of the domed stonework; but too quickly another guided group arrived at the scene and broke the silence.

After seeing the citadel and the museum, I returned to the treasury to shoot a short video with my digital camera. I wish I had thought to do that earlier, when I had the site all to myself, but by this time there were several groups of visitors.


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