Ancient Tirintha

The history

According to the Greek Mythology, the Argeian prince Pritos was the founder of the city. Pritos conflicted with his brother Akrisios and found shelter in Lykia. He returned from Lykia to this location along with the Cyclopes who built in his favor the monumental walls, also known as cyclopean walls.
Tirintha was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic Period until the Late Antiquity. The ceramic findings in the deepest archaeological layers indicate that the first inhabitation was during the Neolithic Period (7000-4000BC). During the Prehistoric Period the settlement thrived mainly in the Early and the Late Bronze Age. The most ancient archaeological remains date back from the Early Bronze Age (3000BC). In the second phase of the Early Helladic Period (2700-2200BC) according to indications in the area there was an important residential centre and a circular building on the top of the hill. Many theories have been expressed about the usage of the circular building but most of them conclude that it was the administrative center of the settlement and the shape of the building was due to the geological background of the territory.
Since the Late Bronze Age the hill was gradually fortified. The heyday of the city is related with the Mycenaean Period (1600-1050BC). The Acropolis of Tirintha is divided into three main parts the Upper, Middle and Lower Citadel. The palace complex and the rest of the buildings of the ruling class were fortified between 14th -13th century BC. The imposing “cyclopean” walls were constructed in three building phases which begun in the 14th century and ended in the middle of the 13th century BC.
The main entrance of the Acropolis was situated in the east side. There was a ramp of 47meters which lead to the Upper Citadel. The big Gate was constructed identically with the Gate of the Lions in Mycenae and was the starting point of an amazing route towards the palace. The resident of that era after passing by the corridors would end up to the central yard with the altar at the south side. Here was the place where the supreme leader entertained the official representatives of foreign states and the citizens. In addition in this part of the city religious ceremonies took place. The “Megaro” and the “Loutro” are surrounding the palatial building and are amazing examples of the Mycenaean architecture.
North of the Upper Citadel on a lower level there was the Middle Citadel. There was a staircase in order to reach the Middle Citadel which was protected by a curved bastion (“Promachonas”) and a tower. In the Middle Citadel there were, among other buildings, the palatial workshops. The northernmost part of the fortification was the Lower Citadel and it was built in the beginning of the 13thBC. Along the way which ended up to the North Gate there were house complexes, workshops and warehouses. The main entrance of the Lower Citadel was the West Gate. Findings and ancient inscriptions confirm the religious ceremonies in the area. Hera, Athena and Apollo were widely mentioned in these findings.
At the end of the 13thBC, a powerful earthquake stroke at the area and severely damaged the cyclopean walls and the buildings of the city which were completely destructed later by a fire. Despite the destruction, a big settlement was organized in the 12thBC and a building of the Lower Citadel was used as a sanctuary. However the damage was irreparable and the fortified Acropolis was gradually deserted. The remaining residents of Tirintha lived in scattered farms.
Tirintha was historically a very important city but couldn’t compete with the city of Argos. In 2ndAD, Pausanias, the known Greek geographer, visited the area and found the city completely deserted.
During the Byzantine Period in the upper Acropolis a cemetery church was erected. Probably in the same period a small settlement existed at the west side of the Acropolis. The ending of the small settlement is related with the Ottoman occupancy of Argos in 1379AD. South of the Acropolis of Tirintha, Ioannis Kapodistrias founded the building of the rural school in 1828 after the Greek War of Independence. Today the same building houses the rural prison of the area.
Ancient Tirintha was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876. After systematic excavations in the city, Schliemann handed over the city in the archaeological research. The German Archaeological Institute and the Greek Archaeological Service since 1876 have revealed one of the most important Mycenaean acropolis and information about this culture during the prehistoric and historic periods of Argolida. Today Ancient Tirintha is a World Heritage Monument protected by Unesco.

The monuments

The West Bastion “Promachonas”

The West Promachonas is an exceptional accomplishment of the Mycenaean architecture. The staircases on the west side are protected by the Promachonas which was constructed during the third building phase of the walls. This part of the walls is the only one with a curved outline. The curved part of the walls begins from the South at the level of the big yard and ends up to the North on the tower which existed already from the second building phase of the walls. There was a terrace (andiron) nearby which helped the defenders of the city to suppress the attackers. The defenders of the city could also stand on the curved part of the wall. Due to the curved route of the staircases the attackers couldn’t easily find coverage. These staircases ended up to the Middle Citadel. At this point there was a large pit which was actually a trap and enhanced the fortification of the city.

The fortifications of Tirintha

The surrounding walls of the Acropolis of Tirintha were built during 3 main building phases and gradually fortified the hill. The building material was the red and the grey limestone which was abundant on the hill of the Acropolis and on the mountain Profitis Ilias at the east side of the Acropolis. The size of the limestone during the third building phase caused the admiration since the Antiquity. The limestones weighed several tons and according to Pausanias not even a couple of mules could transfer the smallest one.

The first building phase

The first building phase of the walls dates back in the beginning of the 14th century BC. The buildings of this phase surrounded the southernmost and highest part of the hill where the palace and the two yards were built later. A gate from the east side was discovered during the excavations in 1909. The walls of this gate were used as foundation for the construction of the propylon which was built later in this place.
The walls which were constructed during this phase adjusted with the geological background of the hill and therefore the route of the walls wasn’t straight but more like a crooked line. The size of the limestone which was used during this phase was relatively small and the type was the grey limestone. The surfaces of the limestones were elaborated and the stones were ordered in horizontal layers. Today the visitor can still see some parts of the walls of the first building phase. Towards the North, where the Middle Citadel was built later wasn’t fortified during the first building phase.

The second building phase

The expansion of the walls took place during the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 13thBC. A bastion “promachonas” towards the South was constructed and expanded the acropolis until the limits of the natural rock of the hill. In this place an entrance was built to access the staircases that led to the terrace of the acropolis. At the east side, where the Gate of the first building phase was, a yard outside of the gate was built. The new outer gate was transferred at the north edge of the yard. The yard and the new outer gate were protected with the newly added walls.
It is possible that during the second building phase, the Middle Citadel was finally fortified and indications show a type of fortification even at the Lower Citadel. The outer gate was probably relocated during the middle of the 13th century again towards the north. This gate was also the final main gate of the acropolis. This gate, which was protected by new walls of enormous size, was built in the same way with the Gate of Lions of Mycenae. A tower at the northwest side of the Middle Citadel was built during this period in order to protect the west side of the walls.
In the second building phase grey and red limestone were used for the constructions. The elaborated stones weren’t ordered always in horizontal layers.

The third building phase

During the second half of the 13th century BC the walls took the final form which is visible today. The “Galaries”, which were oblong corridors with arched roofs, were constructed during this phase at the south and the east side of the acropolis. The “Galaries” were attached at the outer side of the walls which existed already from the second building phase. The West Bastion/Promachonas was built to protect the west staircases and the entrance of this side. In addition a tower was added at the southwest corner. The outer gate during this period was relocated at the east side of the walls. At the Lower Citadel the past fortification walls were replaced by a new strong wall of about 7 meters.
Grey and red limestone was also used during this final building phase. The size of the stones is enormous and many smaller stones are used in order to support the large stones. The surfaces of the stones weren’t as elaborate as those of the past building phases.

The Lower Citadel

The Lower Citadel was located at the northernmost and lowest part of the hill. The Lower Citadel was initially fortified in the beginning of the 13th century BC. This fortification was replaced by new powerful walls in the middle of the 13th century BC. This fortification is consistent with the natural contours of the hill and expands towards the South until it meets the fortifications of the Middle and the Upper Citadel.
During the first excavations the Lower Citadel wasn’t properly explored and for many decades the archaeologists thought that the whole Lower Citadel wasn’t inhabited during the Mycenaean Period and the fortifications of the area were only used as a shelter during the invasions. This perception changed in 1960 when excavations revealed the “syringes” of this side, which were used in order to access the underground water. The Greek Archaeological Service and the German Archaeological Institute found the remains of four Mycenaean buildings which pushed the systematical excavations of the Lower Citadel. The systematic research took place during 1976-1986 by the archaeologist Klaus Kilian. Crucial information was revealed during these researches, like the sequence of the building phases of the Lower Citadel during the Early Helladic and Mycenaean period and the chronology of the terracotta findings of these eras. Also, during these researches, it became clear that the decadence of Tirintha wasn’t the result of the hostile invasions but of the catastrophic earthquakes that stroke the area in 12th BC.
The Lower Citadel was connected with the Upper Citadel but also had its own entrances. There was a small gate from the west side of the walls and was placed between the Middle and the Lower Citadel. This entrance could close and was equipped with a door. There was another one entrance from the north side of the walls probably without a door. The access to this entrance was more difficult than the other gate and was protected by an outpost.
During the second half of the 13th BC, after the fortification building phases, a new building activity took place which destroyed the remains of the precedent yeas of the Mycenaean and the Middle Helladic Period. The Lower Citadel was reformed into artificial terraces “andiron” and the buildings were ordered along the walls. A central road here was heading from the north gate towards the south side of the Lower Citadel and was connected to the road which leaded to the Upper Citadel.
During the excavations 10 building complexes were explored. These building were used as houses and workshops. Evidence showed that one of the buildings was used for religious purposes and was named by Klaus Kilian “The house of the priestess”. These buildings were destroyed by the seismic activity during the 12th century BC. Above the remains of the city scattered houses around the area were constructed but without the unified planning of the previous settlements. During 1200-1050BC continuous destructions of the buildings by fires took place inside the Lower Citadel. On the plain outside the walls a settlement was organized during this period. The decadence of the settlement of the Lower Citadel is obvious. During the years 1070-1050BC the Lower Citadel was gradually deserted and during the Iron Age only a few activities in the settlement have been confirmed.

The geometric temple of Ancient Tirintha

During the excavations in 1926 a sump called “vothros” was explored. Terracotta and metallic items were found here. The findings date back from the Late Geometric Period until 650BC. The majority of the items belonged to the end of the Geometric Period and the Sub-geometric Period. The findings according to the indications were votives which were either decorated a sanctuary or were used in rituals. According to the archaeologists this building was probably a sanctuary during the Geometric Period and was established in the area of the Mycenaean palace. The sanctuary was dedicated to the worship of the Greek goddess Hera. Unfortunately there isn’t enough archaeological evidence to give the final answer regarding the usage and the chronology of this building. However it is certain that in the area of the Mycenaean palace religious activities took place.