1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Ancient Greek Architecture: Mycenae

(Part 37)

Ancient Greek Architecture: Mycenae

The oldest existing structure in Greece of regular form is of far superior construction to the Cyclopean walling, and must be referred to early colonists. It is at Mycenae, and consists of two subterranean chambers, one much larger than the other. The outer and larger one is circular, and is entered by a huge doorway at the end of a long avenue of colossal walls, built in nearly parallel courses of rectangular stones, roughly hewn, however, and laid without mortar. Its external effect is that of an excavation, though the structure of the front is evident; and internally it assumes the form of an immense lime-kiln; its vertical section being of a conical form, with nearly parabolic curves, like a pointed arch.

The construction of this edifice was thought to afford clear evidence that the Greeks were acquainted with the properties of the arch; but in the must material point this was destroyed on finding that it consisted of parallel projecting courses of stone in horizontal layers, in the manner called by our workmen battering, or perhaps more correctly, corbelling.

It proves, however, that its architect understood the principle of the arch in its horizontal position; for Mr Cockerell discovered, by excavations above it, that the diminishing rings of which the dome is composed were complete in themselves for withstanding outward pressure; the joints of the stones being partly wrought radiating, and partly rendered so by wedges of small stones driven tightly into them behind. The apex is formed, not by a key-stone, for the construction does not admit of that, but by a covering stone, which is merely laid on the course immediately below it. It may be added, that internally the lower projecting angles of the stones are worked off to follow the general outline.

Though this is the largest and most perfect, its internal diameter at the base being 48 ft. 6 in., and its height from the floor to the covering stone 45 feet, yet edifices exhibiting similar structure are found in many other places in Greece itself, in Egypt, in Sicily, and in Italy. They all, however, tend to prove, that the principle of the construction of the vertical arch was unknown at the time of their erection in all those countries; and their erection is evidently of the most remote antiquity.

But neither could the mechanical powers have been unknown to their constructions. In the edifice which we have described, and which is thought by some to be the treasury of Atreus, or the tomb of his son Agamemnon, mentioned by Pausanias as existing among the ruins of Mycenae in his time, the inner lintel of the doorway is 27 feet in length, 16 feet deep, and nearly 4 feet thick, weighing, it is computed, upwards of 130 tons; and the lintel of the Gate of the Lions in the Acropolis of the same city, is, from its immense magnitude, also strongly illustrative of the great mechanical skill of the people of those times.

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