The Treasury of Atreus

Useful Information

Image: the impressive entrance to the tomb.
Location: North of Argos. At the road from Korinth to Argos, national road .
Fee: Adults EUR 6, Children EUR 3, Seniors (65+) EUR 3, Students EUR 3.
Classification: ExplainCave Tomb Tholos tomb of the Mycenaean period.
Light: none, not necessary.
Guided tours:  
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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~1300 BC grave built.


Image: the grave at the right side of the cupola.

The so called Treasury of Atreus is a subterranean circular chamber wit a corbelled dome. It is most likely the grave of a Mykenaen king, but not a treasury. Schliemann dubbed it the Treasury of Atreus, most likely without any scientific evidence but because of a romantic intuition. However, much about this time is still unknown including the details about those graves, and so one guess is as good as any other.

So let us concentrate on the visible facts. The grave is very impressing and rather huge. It was built from limestone rocks inside a hill, without the use of mortar. The whole building consists of three parts.

  1. A level dromos is the entrance to the grave. Dromos is the term for a narrow passageway or corridor which served as an entrance to a tholos tomb of the Mycenaean period. It cuts into the hillside and gives way to the entrance door.
  2. A tholos, a huge circular chamber which is 14.6m in diameter, with a round cupola 13.4m high. This is the most impressive part of the grave. And the most enigmatic.
  3. A small adjacent rock-cut chamber. This is often called the true grave. The idea is, that the corpse of the king was placed in this small chamber and not in the cupola.

The tholos is the most impressive part. Beneath its beauty and special atmosphere, there are several strange things going on inside. Becaus of the geometric form, people can whisper in front of the walls and will be hear by other people somewhere else along the wall, but not inside the hall. The rounded wall reflects sound waves producing this strange accoustic effect.

The tholos was most likely built in front of the rock cut chamber and later covered with rocks and earth. It is built of circular rows if rock, each successive horizontal course laid inward from that below, until the area is closed off. The inside of the rocks was then made even producing a sherical inside. All courses look like they all have the same height. But this is obviously an optic trick. The distance increases, and the visible surface increases as the angle becomes more and more obtuse. So the height of the course decreases to the top to produce the illusion of constant height. The capstone is not a static element like the keystone in an arch. This construction technique is called corbelling.

This grave is located close to the ancient city or castle of Mykenae. All together nine of those tombs were found, but this one is the biggest and most beautiful. It is located at the road to Mycenae, only a few hundred meters away. This easy access and proximity make it a popular destination for the day trip buses from beach hotels around. Nevertheless, between the busses this place is still an impressive place with a very special atmosphere.

The Treasury of Atreus Gallery