Set on a bluff in the centre of a plain, the fortress of Tiryns is a Cyclopean structure dating from the 18C BC, a well preserved masterpiece of ancient military architecture.
According to legend Tiryns was founded before Mycenae by Proitos aided by Cyclops from Asia Minor.
Like Mycenae it came under Perseus' rule, then it was governed by the son of Perseus and Andromeda, Alkaios, who was succeeded by Amphitryon. Amphitryon: king of Tiryns, had married his cousin Alkmene.
Zeus who was captivated by Alkmene's beauty, took advantage of one of Amphitryon's absence to introduce himself to Alkmene disguised as her husband. Following her union with first a god and then a mortal Alkmene gave birth to two sons: the one, lacking in ability, was called Iphikles and took after Amphitryon while the other, brave and strong, was called Heracles (Hercules) and took after Zeus. As a demigod, although only 18 months old, Heracles was able to strangle the serpents sent to kill him by Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus.
Later in life in a fit of madness Heracles killed his children, and the Pythia at Delphi ordered him to enter the service of Eurystheus, king of Argos, who set him the Twelve Labors to accomplish: to strangle the Nemean lion, to execute the many - headed hydra of Lerna, to run down the hind of Ceryneia, to capture the Erymanthian boar, to cleanse the Augean stables, to destroy the Stymphalian birds, to tame the Cretan bull, to capture the man - eating horses of King Diomedes, to obtain the girdle of the Amazon queen, to carry off the cattle of Geryon a three -headed monster, to fetch the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides and finally to bring back Cerberus from Hades.
In the Achaean period (13C BC) Tiryns was subject to Mycenae and under Agamemnon took part in the Trojan war. During the Dorian invasion (12C BC) it was an independent kingdom with about 15,000 inhabitants. In 468 BC the Argives captured the city and laid it waste, its role was finished.
Acropolis: "Wall - girt Tiryns" as Homer described it, stands on a long and narrow rocky limestone bluff, only 20 m above the surrounding plain, but the sea came in closer in antiquity so that its isolated position and the strength of its walls made it almost impregnable. The ruins now visible, cover an area measuring 300x45- 100m and comprise the palace on the upper level and on the lower an elliptical precinct enclosing buildings for military, religious and economic use and to house the service quarters.
Ramparts: 7-10m wide and about 1500m long, the walls reach 7.50m high in places. They were compared by Pausanias to the Pyramids and their Cyclopean structure using roughly shaped stones, up to 3.50x1.50m in size, is very impressive. The ramp, which was broad enough for a chariot, leads up to the main entrance to the acropolis: an attacker advancing up the ramp would have been exposed on his right-hand side (unprotected by his shield) to projectiles hurled by the defenders; the gateway, which was closed by wooden doors, was reinforced by two flanking towers.
On passing through the gateway, turn left into the passage enclosed between the outer wall and the wall of the palace which is 11m high at this point, it was a real death trap, if the attackers managed to force the gate they could easily be annihilated at this point by projectiles hurled from every side.
The acme of Tiryntha had a rapid fall when Argives destroyed it at 468 bc because it did not declare subjugation to their kingdom.