The Treasury of Atreus is also known as Tomb of Atreus or Tomb of Agamemnon, and is a huge tomb that can be visited on the hill of Panagitsa, very near Mycenae. It was built during the Bronze Age and is notable for its large vault, the largest to survive in Greece.
The lintel stone weighs 120 tons and is the largest not only in Greece but in the world.
Why is the Treasury of Atreus also called the Tomb of Agamemnon?
We know Agamemnon as one of the most famous heroes of Greek mythology. He appears in Homer's Iliad and, of course, in one of the most recognised versions of the Trojan War, the film of the same name starring Brad Pitt and Eric Bana.
Menelaus was the son of King Atreus, after whom the treasury is named, and Queen Aerope. Married to Clytemnestra, Agamemnon participated in the Trojan War at the side of his brother Menelaus, who had lost his wife, Helen, to Paris the abductor. The myth is just that - a myth - and we will never know if Helen wanted to run away from Menelaus' home or she was forced to leave. What we do know is that Agamemnon and Menelaus participated in the siege of the city of Troy and that this war bequeathed us one of the oldest literary works still in existence.
But was Agamemnon buried in the Treasury of Atreus? The truth is, we don't know. We don't know if he was buried here or if the Tomb of Atreus only contained the remains of the king of Mycenae who finished building it.
What we do know is that it is a Neolithic circular house or tholos. There are nine of them around Mycenae and many more in other areas, but none are as spectacular as the Treasury of Atreus.
The first thing that will strike you when you visit the Treasury of Atreus is that the tomb was dug into the hillside. So one of its rooms, semicircular in shape, is half underground. It has a false arch with a raised point and an inner height of 13.5 metres. It has a diameter of 14.5 metres.
Until the Pantheon in Rome and the Temple of Mercury in Baiae were built, the dome of the Treasury of Atreus was the tallest and widest in the world.
One of the most important aspects of the construction was the stability of the vault. To achieve this, great care was taken with the positioning of the stones, since the building had to withstand the compressive force exerted by its own weight.
The technique used resulted in a completely smooth inner surface that was decorated in gold, silver and bronze.
If the construction of the vault was a challenge, that of the hall was no easier. It was made by digging into the slope vertically, as if it were a well. Then the sides were walled up, the space was covered with stone, and finally the earth was filled in from above.
The dome is actually a false dome built with ashlar masonry arranged in rings. Each level was laid slightly more towards the centre until, finally, only a very small gap was left. This opening above the lintel is called a relieving triangle and is what channels the weight of the structure to the sides and prevents the lintel from breaking.
The tholos is the true burial chamber of the Treasury of Atreus. It is accessed by an avenue or dromos36 metres long and flanked by stone walls. The chamber is almost completely cubical in shape.
Archaeological remains suggest that the entrance portal to the Tomb of Agamemnon was very richly decorated. It had half columns of green stone with zigzag motifs, friezes and red marble spirals. Some of these decorations can be seen in the British Museum, having been removed by Lord Elgin.
The capitals were greatly influenced by Egyptian art.
Mycenae is a city of great historical importance. In addition to the treasure of Atreus, you can see the Lion Gate, flanked by two rampant lions that reach a height of three metres; and the Royal Tombs, another six circular tombs that contained the remains of 19 people.
Mycenae can be reached by public transport from Athens, but the best way to make the most of your time is to rent a car or join a tour party.
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