Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Tiryns - Cyclopean masonry
State Party Greece
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv, vi
Reference 941
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1999  (2309rd Session)
Greece location map
Red pog.svg
Location of Tiryns in Greece
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Tiryns (Ancient Greek: Τίρυνς; Modern Greek: Τίρυνθα) is a Mycenaean archaeological site in Argolis in the Peloponnese, some kilometres north of Nauplion.

General information


Plan of Tiryns excavations

Tiryns was a hill fort with occupation ranging back seven thousand years, from before the beginning of the Bronze Age. It reached its height between 1400 and 1200 BC. Its most notable features were its palace, its cyclopean tunnels and especially its walls, which gave the city its Homeric epithet of "mighty walled Tiryns". In ancient times, the city was linked to the myths surrounding Heracles, with some sources citing it as his birthplace.[1]

The famous megaron of the palace of Tiryns has a large reception hall, the main room of which had a throne placed against the right wall and a central hearth bordered by four Minoan-style wooden columns that served as supports for the roof. Two of the three walls of the megaron were incorporated into an archaic temple of Hera.

The site went into decline at the end of the Mycenaean period, and was completely deserted by the time Pausanias visited in the 2nd century AD. This site was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in 1884-1885, and is the subject of ongoing excavations by the German Archaeological Institute at Athens and the University of Heidelberg.

Tiryns was recognized as one of the World Heritage Sites in 1999.


In Tiryns flourished one of the most important centers of the Mycenaean world, and in particular in Argolis. Its ruins are located about 15 km southeast of Mycenae, in a long hill 300 m long, 45–100 m wide, and no more than 18 meters high. At the top of the hill was a fortified acropolis similar to those found in other Mycenean cities. Protected by enormous walls, it served as the king's full-time residence and as a place of refuge for the city's inhabitants in time of war. The city proper surrounded the acropolis on the plain below.

Tiryns is first referenced by Homer[2] who praised its massive walls. Ancient tradition held that the walls[3] were built by the cyclopes because only giants of superhuman strength could have lifted the enormous stones. After viewing the walls of the ruined citadel in the 2nd century AD, the geographer Pausanias wrote that two mules pulling together could not move even the smaller stones.[4]

Tradition also associates the walls with Proetus, the brother of Acrisius, king of Argos. According to the legend Proetus, pursued by his brother, fled to Lycia. With the help of the Lycians, he managed to return to Argolis. There, Proetus occupied Tiryns and fortified it with the assistance of the cyclopes.

Thus Greek legend links the three Argolic centers with three mythical heroes: Acrisius, founder of the Doric colony of Argos; his brother Proetus, founder of Tiryns; and his grandson Perseus, the founder of Mycenae. But this tradition was born at the beginning of the historical period, when Argos was fighting to become the hegemonic power in the area and needed a glorious past to compete with the other two cities.

The strong walls of Tiryns dominated the region of Argolis. When Kleomenis of Sparta defeated the Argives, their slaves occupied Tiryns for many years, according to Herodotus.[5] Herodotus also mentions[6] that Tiryns took part in the Battle of Plataea in 480 B.C.E. with 400 hoplites.

The history of the settlement

The area was inhabited by the prehistoric time. The lesser neolithic settlement followed, in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, a flourishing early pre-Hellenic settlement. From this period survived under a yard of a Mycenaean palace, an imposing circular structure 28 meters in diameter, which should be a fortress or a residence of a king. Its base was powerful, and was constructed from two concentric stone walls, among which there were others cross-cutting, so that the thickness reached 45 m.

The superstructure was clay and the roof from tiles baked in fire. The first Greek genders, the creators of the Middle Helladic civilization and the Mycenaean civilization after that, settled Tiryns at the beginning of the Middle period (2000-1600 BC) and the city underwent its greatest growth during the Mycenaean period. The Acropolis presents three construction phases, the first at the end of the Late Helladic II period (1500-1400 BC), the second in Late-Helladic III (1400-1300 BC) and the third at the end of the Late-Helladic III B (1300-1200 BC). The surviving ruins of the Mycenaean citadel is dating at the end of the third period.

The disaster that struck the Mycenaean centers at the end of the Bronze Age affected Tiryns, but it is certain that the area of the palace was inhabited continuously until the middle of the 8th century BC (a little later a temple was built in the ruins of the palace). At the beginning of the classical time Tiryns, such as Mycenae, became a relatively insignificant city, but participated both to the Greco–Persian Wars, sending 400 men to the battle of Plataea. Even in decline, the two once-glorious Mycenaean centers were disturbing to the Argives, who in their political propaganda wanted to monopolize the glory of legendary (and mythical) ancestors.

Thus, in 468 BC, Argos completely destroyed both Mycenae and Tiryns, and transferred - according to Pausanias - the residents to Argos, to increase the population of the city. However, Strabo says[7] that many Tirynthians resorted to the -nowadays- city of Porto Heli, where they founded the city Halieis.[8]

Despite its importance, little value was given to Tiryns, its mythical rulers and traditions, by epics and drama. Pausanias dedicated a short piece (2.25.8) to Tiryns, and the newer travelers, traveling to Greece in search of places where the heroes of the ancient texts acted, did not give to the ruins of Tiryns the importance they deserved.


The Acropolis was first excavated by the German archaeologist Tirs in 1831. In 1876, Heinrich Schliemann considered the palace of Tiryns to be medieval, so he came very close to destroying the remains in order to excavate deeper for Mycenaean treasures. Fortunately, the next period of excavation was under Wilhelm Dörpfeld, a director of the German Archaeological Institute, so this time the ruins were estimated and reflected on properly. The excavations were repeated later by Dörpfeld and with the cooperation of other German archaeologists, who continued his work until 1938. After World War II, the work was continued by the Institute and the Greek Archaeological Service.

The archaeological site

Tiryns fresco

Fresco with a representation of a wild boar hunt. From the later Tiryns palace.

The walls extend to the entire area of the top of the hill. Their bases survive throughout all of their length, and their height in some places reaches 7 meters, slightly below the original height, which is estimated at 9,10 m. The thickness of the wall is very large, usually reaches the 6 meters, while at the points that are opened the famous tunnels up to 17 m. A strong transverse wall is separating the acropolis in two sections -the south includes the palatial buildings, while the northern protects only the top of the hill area. In this second section, which dates to the end of the Mycenaean times, from time to time are opened small gates and many tunnels, covered with a triangular roof, which is served as a refuge for the inhabitants of the lower city in times of danger.

The entrance of the citadel has always been on the east side, but had a different position and form in each of the three construction phases. In the second phase the gate had the form of the Lion Gate of Mycenae. Left there was a tower and to the right was the arm of the wall, so the gate was well protected, since the attackers were forced to cross a very narrow corridor, while the defense could hit them from above and from both sides. In the third phase the gate was moved further out. The palace of the king, inside the citadel, similar to that of Mycenae, dimensions 11.80 x 9.80 m, consists of three areas: the outer portico with the two columns, the prodomos (anteroom) and the Domos (main room) with the cyclical fireplace that was surrounded by 4 wooden columns. The lateral compartments of the palace seems to have a second floor.

Rich was the decoration of the walls of the outer arcade. They had a zone at the bottom of alabaster slabs with relief rosettes and flowers. The rest was decorated with frescos. Three doors lead to prodomos and then another to Domos. In the middle of the eastern wall is visible in the floor the place that corresponded to the royal throne. The floor was rich decorated with different themes in the area around the walls and the space between the columns of the fireplace. Of course, here the walls were decorated with paintings.

In the ruins of the mansion, which burned during the 8th century BC, the inhabitants of the Geometrical period age built a Doric temple, a smaller size than the mansion, with two parts, the prodomos and the cella. The width of the temple, is just beyond the half of the width of the mansion, while the back wall of the temple is reaching the height of the rear columns of the fireplace. Three springs, one in the western side of the large courtyard, where could be accessed by a secret entrance, and two at the end of north side of the wall, to which the access could be done by two tunnels which were opened in the wall, similar to those that used as shelters, are witness for the care which was taken here, as in other Mycenaean acropolises, to the basic problem of water - at a siege time.

See also


  2. Homer - Iliad rhapsody B, 559
  3. Pausanias Description of Greece - about Boeotia 9.36.5
  4. Pausanias Description of Greece - about Corinth 2.25.8
  5. Herodotus Book 6, 83
  6. Herodotus Book 9, 28
  7. Strabo 8, 373
  8. - Halieis history

External links

Template:World Heritage Sites in Greece Coordinates: 37°35′58″N 22°47′59″E / 37.59944°N 22.79972°E / 37.59944; 22.79972

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