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December 11, 2007

Treasury of Atreus

Entrance, Treasury of Atreus
Entrance, Treasury of Atreus
Interior
Interior

The Treasury of Atreus or Tomb of Agamemnon is an impressive "tholos" tomb at Mycenae, Greece (on the Panagitsa Hill) constructed around 1250 BCE. The lintel stone above the doorway weighs 120 tons. The tomb was used for an unknown period of time. Cited by Pausanias, it was still visible in 1879 when the archeologist German Heinrich Schliemann discovered the other graves under the agora in the Acropolis at Mycenae.

It was built around the half of the 13th century BC (400 years before the alleged time of the Trojan War) and perhaps held the remains of the sovereign who completed the reconstruction of the fortress or one of his successors. The grave repeats the shape of other tholoi of the eastern Mediterranean, also present in the environs of Mycenae (about twelve), but in its monumental shape and grandiosity it is one of the impressivest monuments surviving from the archaic period in Greece.

Section of the tomb
Section of the tomb

It is formed of a semi-subterranean room of circular plan, with a covering that is ogival in section, brought about by progressively piling up boulders (false vault). With an interior height of 13.5m and a diameter of 14.5m,[1] it was the tallest and widest dome in the world for over a thousand years until construction of the Temple of Mercury in Baiae and the Pantheon in Rome. (See List of world's largest domes.) Great care was taken in the positioning of the enormous stones, to guarantee the vault's stability over time in bearing the force of compression from its own weight. This obtained a perfectly smoothed internal surface, onto which could be placed gold, silver and bronze decoration.

The tholos was entered from an inclined uncovered hall or dromos, 36 meters long and with dry-stone walls. A short passage led from the tholos to the actual burial chamber, which was dug out in a nearly cubical shape.

The entrance portal to the tumulus was richly decorated: half-columns in green limestone with zig-zag motifs on the trunk[2], a frieze with rosettes above the architrave of the door, and spiral decoration in bands of red marble that closed the triangular aperture above an architrave. The capitals are influenced by ancient Egyptian examples, and one is in the Pergamon Museum as part of the Antikensammlung Berlin. Other decorative elements were inlaid with red porphyry and green alabaster, a surprising luxury for the Bronze Age.

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