The ruins of the once fabled city of Tiryns is 5 km up the coast from where we were staying at Nafplio and a bit over 7 km from Argos. Looking out over the bay from Nafplio’s Acronauplia, we could see Tiryns alone and ruined on a hill in the distance. In the image below, a painting from 1867 by Rey Etienne, the view is from Tiryns back across the bay past Nafplio’s island fortress to the Acronauplia. There is a pleasant 3 storey house below and perhaps some resting shepherds on the cyclopean rocks of the ruins of Tiryns. It looks idyllic as you would hope the birthplace of the great Greek Hero Hercules would be. Clearly Tiryns best days are long in the past since Homer described it as “mighty-walled Tiryns”.
We wanted to visit Tiryns as it was, along with Mycenae, one of the important centers of the Mycenaean world. If UNESCO decides you are a World Heritage Site, that is a clear indicator of your importance in the scheme of things…
“The archaeological sites of Mycenae and Tiryns are the imposing ruins of the two greatest cities of the Mycenaean civilization, which dominated the eastern Mediterranean world from the 15th to the 12th century B.C. and played a vital role in the development of classical Greek culture. These two cities are indissolubly linked to the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey , which have influenced European art and literature for more than three millennia.” (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/941/
It was a very hot summer’s morning when we wandered the archaeological site of Tiryns and unfortunately it was very difficult to get a sense of its lost grandeur; no guide and little public information. The website of Ancient-Greece.org captures the mood…“Today Tiryns is well-known but not often visited archaeological site near the modern city of Nafplion.”
Tiryns has a pre-history that appears to be much older than its cousin Mycenae’, perhaps as long as around 7000 years. Evidence of people building on this hill, at the time only 500 metres from the Gulf of Argolis, have been dated to the Middle Neolithic period (4000-3500 BCE). There were significant structures already built on top of the acropolis that was Tiryns as early as the Early Helladic period of Greek History (c.2650-2200BCE), the remains of one of these buildings has been found by archaeologists under the site of the palace complex from Tiryns’ heyday. It appears to be a fortified tower (see below) that was a predecessor of the much more impressive Tiryns megaron.
Tiryns was at its strongest for a couple of centuries between 1400-1200 BCE when it was an impressive fortress with a palace, tunnels and its massive defensive walls. On top of the old circular tower, the Greeks who inhabited Tiryns from around 2000 BC built at least three forms of the palace on the site of the ancient fortress tower that no doubt was the last retreat when the site was under attack from its enemies. To the right is an image of one the tunnels that the Mycenean people who lived in Tiryns during this period constructed as part of their defences.
The first archaeological excavation at Tiryns occurred in 1836 and was followed by the dubious work here by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 who thought the site was of medieval origin. He wanted to dig down to the ancient layers to no doubt again find similar treasures as he found at Troy and Mycenae. Luckily he didn’t get a chance to do so. Excavations on the wider site has been ongoing throughout the twentieth century. Based on this work, various artist has attempted to recreate what Tiryns might have looked like during the Mycenaean period. In the image below, the palace area can be seen on the right hand side and on the left is the lower platform of the hill where the next level of Tiryns society would have lived. During Mycenean times, associated towns folk lived below the acropolis on the shore of the gulf of Argolis.
The image below is the reality of the Tiryns site today where nothing is left of the palace or even the rubble that replaced it for another 2000 years. In Appendix 1 there are two small remnants that give some idea of how beautiful the interior of the Tiryns palace would have looked like. In the second image found in the appendix, the ancient design was found in the vestibule leading into the Tiryns Megaron.
The recreation of the Megaron in the Tiryns palace below (courtesy ucadp.com) shows the similar layout that archaeologists found in Mycenae. It has the frescoed walls, the opening in the roof supported by four pillars and the hearth circle in the centre.
A significant number of artifacts from Tiryns can be found in the Archaeological Museum of Naphlion which is housed in the old Venetian Barracks in the central square of that town. On the left below is an ancient battered helmet found in Tiryns that appears to be a ‘knight’s helmet developed perhaps 2500 years before the ones we are familiar with from medieval suits of armour. The prize exhibit to be found in the Naphlion Museum is the complete suit of Mycenaean armour made from bronze. It was unearthed at Dendra, 15km from Mycenae, almost on the road to Tiryns and is believed to be round about 3500 years old today. Perhaps being the armour being made of bronze was the reason these knights were no match for the iron wielding Dorians that are one possible cause of the disappearance of the Mycenaean culture. More evidence of Mycenaean soldiers wearing armour that we would normally associate with the Middle Ages is to found on a Mycenaean bowl that is to be found in the Archaeological Museum of Athens.
We of course enjoyed our stroll around the quiet archaeological site of Tiryns. As I was leaving, the usual feeling overcame me at this point in any such visit…that sense of the loss of human achievement that such ruins often represent. Time is a great leveller and this is certainly the case with Tiryns. We are lucky in the 21st century that we have archaeologists who in their search for the past, reveal, if only in our imaginations, the beauty of places like Mycenaean Tiryns after the passing of three and a half thousand years.
APPENDIX 1: Some more remnants from the Tiryns Palace