Enter ancient Greece at Mycenae

Greece is famous for its rich amount of archeological sites. Building in the country is almost impossible due to the abundance of history hidden underneath Greek soil. As a result, even the smallest towns have archeological sites or museums. Most of these sites are fields, covered with ancient foundations and restored columns. The most famous sites might have a building that survived time, like the Parthenon in the Acropolis or the theatre at Epidaurus. At the ancient city of Mycenae, however, you can actually touch and enter the structures built thousands of years ago. This archeological site is a truly unique experience.

Argolis, Peloponnese

Archeological site

1.5 – 2 hours

€6,- to €12,-
seasonal

Be careful

Yes

Location

Mycenae lies in the North of the Peloponnese peninsula, in the Argolis region. The ancient site is just 1 hour and 40 minutes away from Athens Airport by car, and the first famous archeological site you find when entering the Peloponnese.

The location of the ancient city is impressive. On top of a hill, overlooking the sea in the south, and de fields and mountains all around.

Mythology

Mycenae is an ancient city on top of a hill built from giant rocks. It seems almost impossible that human hands constructed this city so long ago. So, Greek mythology came up with an explanation.

According to mythology, Zeus and Danae (the daughter of the king of Argos, a city close by) had a son, Perseus. He wandered around the area that is now Mycenae and either dropped his cap or found a mushroom. A cap, as well as a mushroom are myces in the ancient Greek language. So we can not know which of the two Perseus was about to pick up. But when Perseus picked up his myces, he found a water spring. He decided to settle right there and called his city Mycenae.

Perseus wanted to fortify the city he was now king of and called the cyclopes. These one-eyed giants were strong enough to pick up large and heavy stones with ease. They created fortification walls that mark the outline of Mycenae till today. The Cyclopean walls, named after their builders.

History

Mycenae is over nine thousand years old. The first signs of human life in the area date back to the Early Neolithic Age in the 7th century B.C. However, not much of the early Mycenae survived through time, and the archeological site mostly tells the story of the city’s prime time.

Between 1350 and 1200 B.C., Mycenae was a major center of Greek civilization. The city expanded rapidly to a population of 300,000. Many buildings in the citadel were rebuilt, and the fortification walls were constructed. The Lion Gate, the tholos tombs, and the palace, for example, all originate in this time in ancient Greece. Unfortunately, because of this, not much of Mycenae before this time survived. 

After 1200 B.C., Mycenae lost its status as the center of power. The site got destroyed for an unknown reason. The citadel was partly rebuilt later but caught fire and then was slowly abandoned. The ruins of ancient Mycenae have been a tourist attraction since Roman times and have remained popular till today. The site has been on the list of UNESCO world heritage since 1999.

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The archeological site of Mycenae

The archeological site of ancient Mycenae is one of the oldest in Greece. Eight hundred years older than the Acropolis and constructed two thousand years before the close by site of Mystras. However, the site is well preserved. A visit to Mycenae is like a visit to ancient Greece.

I have never felt more connected with history than during my visit to Mykines. There are ancient streets you can walk on, structures you can enter, spaces you can experience, and walls you can touch. At the site, there is a concrete path you can follow. This path leads you to all the impressive structures of the old city. I would recommend first entering the citadel and visiting the tombs at the beginning of the site afterward.

The Lion Gate

The most famous and first structure at Mycenae is the Lion Gate. This gate marks the entrance to the city in an impressive 3-meter (10 feet) tall wall. 

The reason behind the gate’s name is above the passage. There is a large, triangular, limestone slab with the image of two confronted lionesses. Although the heads are missing, the image in the stone is still clear and detailed. But more impressively, the lionesses are not just there for ornamentation. The limestone’s triangular shape gives stability to the giant rocks in the wall above the entrance. Without this stone, the gate would collapse.

Nature and History

After passing through the Lion Gate, you have entered the citadel. From the gate, a concrete path marks the route around the city. Along grave circle A, the palace, temples, and many other buildings. 

Cyclopean walls, constructed for fortification, enclose the entire citadel. From these walls, the view of the surrounding landscape is breathtaking and reveals how well-positioned this ancient city used to be. At a both strategic and defensive location in the area. You will be continuously drawn between being amazed by the ancient structures, to being astonished by the magnificent views.

The underground cistern

At the most eastern point of the archeological site, you can find a rare experience, the underground cistern. Although its entrance looks like a cave in the fortification wall, it is actually the beginning of a spectacular piece of architecture.

The cave marks the entrance of a passage. This passage is a staircase that leads 18 meters deep and at the end of this staircase, there is an even deeper structure. A well, made of clay, collects water from a natural spring. This well used to provide a continuous supply of water to the citadel, and is one of the oldest underground aqueducts you can visit in Greece.

Unfortunately, only a part of the tunnel is open to the public. However, this is enough to reveal how advanced and intelligent the Mycenaen civilization used to be. You can enter the tunnel, descend part of the stairs and see how deep down the staircase reaches. However, even the giant stones that enclose the stairs in an arc-like shape, are an art piece by themselves.

The tholos tombs

After visiting the ancient city of Mycenae, you can enter grave circle B. Located just outside of the city’s wall, the tombs of Aegisthus and Clymentemnesta are worth the climb down the steep hillside.

The tombs are called the tholos tombs. Tholo in Greek means dome, which perfectly describes the shape of the tombs as they are large underground domes, or beehive tombs in English. But how were these impressive underground shapes created?

First, the Greeks make a large round opening into a hill. Inside this opening, they placed huge stones in circular rows, on top of each other. Each row sticks out slightly over the previous one, to decrease the diameter of the circle of stones gradually. They continue this process upward, until the circle’s diameter is as small as a singular stone. This is the top of the dome.

After the Greeks completed the dome shaped-structure, they restored the hill, by adding soil on top of the tomb. The dome shape of the structure made it survive underground. The tomb of Clymentemnesta proves the strength of the dome design. When a theatre was built on top of it at later times, the structure was able to hold the weight.

The entrance to the tombs is a wide path leading into the otherwise hidden dome. This path is called the dromos in Greek. This dromos leads to the tomb’s entrance, marked by a gate, constructed similar to the Lion Gate. 

The tomb of Aegisthus is destroyed at the top. However, the tomb of Clymentemnesta is fully preserved and impressive. The scale of the tombs at Mycenae is unbelievable, and the acoustics inside adds to their size. They are real masterpieces of ancient Greek architecture.

Tips:

  • The whole site, except for the tombs, is accessible by wheelchair. However, the concrete path is very steep at some points, so keep this in mind.
  • Visit the site in the order described above. You will go from being amazed to being more amazed, and being beyond amazed!
  • Bring plenty of water and sunscreen when you visit the archeological site of Mycenae during the summer months. The location, on top of a hill, requires quite a hike, and shading is scarce at the citadel. Therefore, it is better to visit off-season. This period will also show a clearer view of the landscape around.
  • Don’t forget to visit the museum and the tomb of Agamemnon. The museum is located slightly downhill, on the North of ancient Mycenea. You can find the tomb on the road down to the village of Mykines.
  • Combine a visit to Mycenae with Epidaurus, Nafplio, the Sunken City, the Dolines of Didyma, or any of the beaches close by.
  • You will have to pay entrance to enter Mycenae. A ticket costs €12,- from April to October. Off-season and for children, the price is €6,-. There is another ticket available that is valid for three days and combines Mycenae with other museums and ancient sites in the area. This ticket costs €20,-.
  • Mycenea is open from 8 AM to 8 PM during the summer months. When traveling outside this season, you should check the opening hours before your visit since they change each month.

Beyond crosswords : Greek gods

Ancient Greek mythology influences modern life around the world. Video games, comic books, movies, and modern brands refer to the stories that where told over 2.000 years ago. Did you know that the name cereals, for example, comes from Ceres, the god of grain? Or that the Olympic games started as a way to honor Zeus? The Greek gods are everywhere, also in our crosswords.

If you are a crosswords lover but wonder what the Greek gods you keep fitting into your puzzles actually stand for, keep reading below! To help you with you puzzle, they are ordered by the amount of letters their names have.

3 letters

  • NYX
    Nyx is the goddess of the night. Mother to sleep (Hypnos), death (Thanatos), and darkness (Erebus). She can control the movement and rotation of the planets. End the day, and start the night. Nyx might sound like an evil and dark goddess, but she is far from that. Although other gods feared her, she is seen as a motherly and warm goddess by her family.
  • PAN
    Pan’s homeland is Arcadia, in Peloponnese. He is the God of the wild, the shepherds, and rustic music. That is why he is part goat and part man. Like Peter Pan, he enjoyed playing the pan flute. Which he invented. However, the word panic also derives from this God. Who could make us, humans, flee in uncontrollable fear.

4 letters

  • GAIA
    Gaia is the personification of earth. Mother earth. Gaia and Ouranos (sky or heaven) are the beginning of all Greek gods. She is the mother of the Titans, and grandmother to the Olympian Gods. Gaia in modern Greek still means earth.
  • ZEUS
    Zeus is not only one of the Greek gods that is most used in modern crosswords. Zeus is the Greek god, the king, the father of all gods and humans. He is technically the youngest son of the Titans Rhea and Cronos. However, his siblings ended up in their father’s stomach not long after birth. Because Cronos was afraid to be defeated by one of his children. Zeus, however, escaped this faith. He was brought up by a nymph and a goat in Crete. When he was strong enough, he defeated his father, after which his siblings were born again, this time from their father’s belly. Zeus became the king of the Greek gods.
  • ARES
    Ares is one of Zeus’ children. He is the god of war, the despicable characteristics of brutal warfare and slaughter. However, Ares is also known for his numerous love affairs. His main love was war, but he also fell for the married Aphrodite. Supposedly due to an arrow of the next man on this list.
  • EROS
    Eros is the god of love and appreciation. He was much like (the Roman) Cupid and used an arrow to the heart to make people fall in love. Eros’ origin is unknown. He is either the son of Aphrodite and Aros, the child of Nyx, or simply the fourth God. His name, however, is the origin of the terms erotic and erogenous.

5 letters

  • CHAOS
    We all know the word chaos, but do we know the God as well? Chaos is the personification of absolute nothingness. She was the first God, before the creation of the earth. Chaos is a void, but also a powerful energy from which everything is created.
  • HADES
    The oldest brother of Zeus (or youngest after Zeus freed his siblings from his father’s belly) is Hades, the god of the underworld. Hades likes to live in the dark and shadowed land of death. He owns a guard dog, with not two, but three heads. This dog helped Hades with his main tasks, protecting and keeping the souls of the dead.

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6 letters

  • TITANS
    A Titan is not one god but instead the name of all the first-generation gods that came after Gaia (earth) and Ouranos (heaven or sky). However, together with the Olympics they are often the answers in crosswords on Greek gods. There are a total of twelve Titans in Greek mythology, six female and six male. Two siblings, Rhea and Cronos, are the parents of the Olympian Gods.
  • APOLLO
    Apollo is the god of light, music, poetry, healing, and prophecy. He is the only god that has the same name in Greek and Roman mythology. Visiting Greece today, you can visit no less than five temples dedicated to Apollo, all around the country.
  • HERMES
    A half-brother of Apollo is Hermes. The god of wealth, trade, thieves, and travelers. Hermes is often described as the messenger of the gods and the guide of the souls of the newly deceased. Hermes’ head was commonly used in a strange sculpture, a herm. A head on a tall square pillar, with male genitals at a height that fits human proportions. 

7 letters

  • DEMETER
    The first sister of Zeus in this list is Demeter. The goddess of agriculture and protector of trees, plants, and grains. She is one of the few Olympian gods that survived Roman times. She evolved into Saint Dimitria, the saint of agriculture. Today the name Demetrius still means devoted to Demeter. 
  • ARTEMIS
    Artemis is the goddess of hunting, wild animals, wilderness, and the twin sister of Apollo. Her father, Zeus, gave her eternal virginity. This allowed her to live without the disturbance of love, men, and marriage. Instead, she had sixty nymphs for friends, who all needed to remain virgins as well. Although Artemis did not have any children of her own, she protected women during pregnancy and childbirth.

8 letters

  • OLYMPIAN
    The twelve Titans, where followed by the next generation of Greek gods, the Olympians. Again this category contains 12 gods, of which the most powerful are Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. Their home was Mount Olympus.
  • POSEIDON
    Poseidon is the god of the sea, horses, and earthquakes. His nickname is the earth-shaker and his Roman alter-ego is Neptune. Poseidon created the island of Paxoi with his trident. Although Poseidon himself is human, his offspring is interesting. From a half-fish to a flying horse.
  • DIONYSUS
    Dionysus is a demi-god, someone half-human (his princess mother), and part god (his father is Zeus). Dionysus is the god of wine, viticulture ritual madness, and religious ecstasy. However, it is believed that this was his second self. In mythology, Dionysus is born twice, the first time he was a bearded old man. The second time as a youthful boy who loves to get drunk. 

9 letters

  • APHRODITE
    Aphrodite is the beautiful goddess of sexual love and beauty. She had many lovers and many children. The name Aphrodite means risen from the foam. Why? According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite was created from the foam that arose from the genitals of Uranus after he was thrown into the sea.

10 letters

  • HEPHAESTUS
    Where Aphrodite was created by her father’s genitals, Hephaestus has only a mother, Hera. This made him so ugly and deformed that he was banned from mount Olympus. Hephaestus grew up with mortals on the island of Lemnos. He became the god of fire and blacksmiths after he trapped his mother on a self-built golden throne for revanche.

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Everything is better with some Feta

As a Dutch, I’m often teased about the strong relationship I am supposed to have with cheese. And although it is true that, as a kid, I ate at least one cheese sandwich each day, I believe we Dutch are not the main European cheese eaters. We might eat an average of two to three slices every day, but is this really that much? Well, I would say no. Not after I witnessed the use of (Feta) cheese in Greece.

Cheese in Greece

The average Greek is good for the consumption of almost 25 kg (55lbs) of cheese each year. This is higher than the average in the EU (20kg) and definitely higher than the cheese consumption in the US, where just 18kg of cheese is eaten on average per person each year.

The most famous cheese in Greece is feta. Yearly, the Greeks produce over 123.000 tonnes of feta, supporting over 100.000 families. But feta is not the only cheese in the country. Crete for example does not have feta. The name feta is covered by a Protected Designation of Origin by the European Union. This means, that its production is strictly regulated and limited to specific regions in Greece.

Cretans make what they have to call “white cheese,” which is actually feta, without the name. But besides this “fake” feta, every region in Greece produces its own type of cheese as well. Metsovone from Metsovone, kefalotyri from Kefalonia, or kalathaki from Lemnos, are just a few examples.

History & Mythology

The fact that every region in Greece produces its own kind of cheese, shows how important cheese is for the Greeks. Cheese is a part of the Greek culture, and has been for a long time. The earliest know produced feta cheese dates from the 8th century B.C. The recipe for this delicious cheese had been unchanged for thousands of years.

But how did the Greeks discover the art of cheese making? Two stories in Greek mythology explain the first feta of thousands of years ago.

Story number one is a myth about a one-eyed cyclope called Polyphimos. He was transporting the milk that he collected from his sheep in bags made of animal stomachs. One day he realized that the milk had curdled and had become solid and conservable. Tasty cheese! When later Odysseus visited Polyphimos in his cave and found it to be full of cheese, feta became famous.

The second story about the origin of Greek cheese says that the art of making cheese was given as a gift to men by the Olympian Gods. These gods sent Aristaeus, a name that translates into ” the best”. He thought the Greeks the useful arts, of which one was the art of cheese making.

Culture

It doesn’t matter if cheese was a gift of the gods or just an accidental discovery during the transportation of milk. Both explanations result in the importance of cheese in Greek culture. Either as an honor to the gods or as the need for milk conservation, the outcome is that the Greeks eat cheese with every meal.

Whenever I have a meal with my Greek family, there is always a block of feta on the table. And this counts for every Greek family. It is a part of every Greek meal and goes with literally everything, from soup to fruit, and from vegetables to meat.

How to eat greek cheese

Since there are many different types of cheeses in Greece, the way of eating each cheese varies. But here are the main Greek cheese dishes you must try when visiting. Besides these cheese dishes, don’t forget to eat some feta with everything else you eat in Greece. A feta a day, keeps the doctor away?

  • Feta with olive oil and oregano
  • Karpouzi me feta. Watermelon mixed with crumbled feta and sometimes mint or onions
  • Tiropita, a cheese-filled pie. Delicious!
  • Tirosalata, cheese salad. It is a Greek cheese dip, perfect on a gyros or just with a pita
  • Melopita. Honey cake with cheese. Like a traditional Greek cheesecake
  • Saganaki, fried cheese often served with lemon

Tips for the vegans amongst us

After reading everything about cheese in Greece, you might be upset when you choose to live on a plant-based diet. But don’t be! Since the Orthodox Greeks, who make up a big part of the Greek population, do not eat dairy products most of the year, there is very good vegan cheese produced in Greece. You can find this cheese in the supermarkets, and a few restaurants even serve it as well. You can recognize plant-based cheese by the Greek word nistisimo.

My favorite brand of plant-based feta cheese is called Viofast. In Greece, however, this alternative can not be called feta, but is named white cheese instead. Many of these Greek vegan products are as tasty as their animal-based counterpart.

Is your favorite Greek cheese or cheese recipe not mentioned above? Comment below and I will try it on my next visit to Greece!

Acheron. The entrance of the Greek underworld

The clear-blue river of Acheron is located in the Epirus region of North-West Greece. It is a beautiful place with crystal clear turquoise water, surrounded by white cliffs and lush greenery. A natural paradise with a story that does not fit its current sight. The Acheron river is well known in Greek mythology as the entrance to the underworld. But why?

Epirus, Mainland

Natural site

2 hours

Free

Yes

No

Location

The Acheron river flows in the Epirus region, in the North-West of Greece. Epirus is bound by Albania in the North and the Ionian sea in the West. This sea is where the water from Acherontas ends up, in the small fishing village of Ammoudia. The river’s source is near the village of Zotiko, in the southwestern part of Ioannina. The river has a length of 52 kilometers, 32 miles.

Acheron in Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, the Acheron river is used by Charon. Charon is a god-like ferry operator. He used to carry the souls of the dead on his boat, over the Acheron river, to the underworld. Not for free off-course, ferries don’t sail for free, not even a god-ferry. Whoever was buried with a coin in his mouth was allowed on Charon’s ship to enter the world of the dead. For those less fortunate, one hundred years of wandering the shores of Archeron was the only way to get to the other side.

However, like with all Greek mythology, this is just one story. Other stories say Charon only took the dead who lived a bad life to Hell. Leaving the spirits of people who lived a good life on the shores. There is even a story saying an evil gnome was living in the waters of Acheron, turning it bitter and poisoned. What they all have in common is that the Acherontas river was dark, known as the river of woe or misery.

But why?

Mythology has always been a way of describing things that are not easy to explain or beyond our knowledge. The flow of the Acheron river is like this, indescribable. The ancient Greeks already knew that rivers flow towards the sea, and the sea flows around the land. Acheron, however, does not flow straight into the ocean. The river disappears underneath mountains and comes up in some places to (seem) flow(ing) away from the sea. Since the flow of the ocean, or the grand world-encircling river Oceanus, bounds the world of the living, Acheron must have had something to do with the dead.

Nature

Nowadays, the Acheron river is still a magical place. No longer because of the stories, but because of the natural beauty of this river. Clear turquoise water, surrounded by white gorges, waterfalls, ponds, and greenery. Acherontas is home to endangered species of fish, amphibians, and birds.

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Activities

The best place to visit the Acheron river is in Glykí. Glykí means sweets and most probably received this name due to the sweet waters of Acheron. In Glkí, there are plenty of water activities, like rafting, kayaking, horse riding, paragliding, or rushing over the water on a zip line. The village also offers bars and taverns along the river’s shores.

East of Glykí starts a trail that takes you upstream through the river. It is free to enter but makes for a priceless experience. In the beginning, there will be a lot of tourists with you. Nevertheless, you should enter the river, adjust to the cold waters, and keep walking upstream.

You will reach a point where the water is much deeper. Many people will stop here and return to the village. But do not follow them. Be brave and jump in the cold water. You’re just 3 to 4 strokes away from paradise. Because after this test, you will find yourself surrounded by nature, in the most peaceful place.

Tips:

  • When you visit the Acheron river, don’t forget to bring some shoes or slippers that you can easily walk in the water with. The bottom of the river is made up of smaller and bigger pebbles that can be very slippery or sharp.
  • If you have young children, bring an inflatable boat or even an air mattress for them to float on when the water level gets too high.
  • The water of this river comes from the mountains around Ioannina. The amount of water inside the river depends on both the amount of snow and rain in winter as well as the time of the year you visit. I can recommend not to go too early in the summer but wait till the end of July or the beginning of August to visit. Since the water level will drop. But don’t wait too long, you want some water there in order to have a good experience.
  • Combine this trip with a visit to the Souli watermills for lunch, and/or with a longer stay in Parga. (Coming soon)
  • The trail through the river is not accessible for people in a wheelchair or who have difficulty walking. Do you still want to enjoy the waters of Acheron? Contact a rafting or kayak company in the area, or simply enjoy a meal at the river’s shores.
  • Enjoy the nature and peace on your trip to Acheron, the entrance of the Greek underworld!