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The Palace of Nestor at Pylos

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General Introduction

“They came to Pylos, the well-built citadel of Neleus”
Homer, Odyssey, Book 3, 4-5

The palatial complex that was discovered on the hill of Ano Englianos is widely known as the Palace of Nestor because of its striking resemblance to the palace of wise king Nestor at Pylos described by Homer. According to tradition, Nestor's father was Neleus, a prince from Thessaly. Neleus, after a dispute with his brother Pelias (king of Iolkos), left Thessaly and settled in Messenia, where he either founded Pylos or seized it from its original founder, Pylos of Megara.
The earliest traces of human activity on the Englianos hill are dated to the Middle Helladic period (2050-1680 B.C.). During the Early Mycenaean period (LH I-II; 1680-1400 B.C.) habitation continued and the Englianos hill was surrounded by a defensive wall. During the succeeding Late Helladic IIIA period (1400-1300 B.C.) many houses were built on the acropolis and on the lowest terraces of the hill. During the Late Helladic IIIB period (1300-1200 B.C.) the old buildings were demolished after a fire and the area of the acropolis became exclusively available to the wanax. At this time, the palatial complex, the remains of which are today visible, was constructed.
The town around the palatial complex extended down the slopes and terraces of the acropolis and along the Englianos ridge. At a short distance to the north and south of the acropolis royal tholos tombs have been found, while a cemetery of chamber tombs has been discovered on a ridge that descends to the west. A grave with rich offerings, dating to the 15th century B.C., has been found near the acropolis, to the north.
The Palace was destroyed by an intense fire around 1200 B.C. The Englianos hill and the settlement around it were then abandoned. Later, during the Early Iron Age (1060-900 B.C.), a small population reinhabited the area.

The settlement on the Englianos ridge appears to have developed gradually into a powerful regional center in the centuries before the building of the final palatial complex. In the third millennium B.C., habitation in the area was mainly focused on the coasts of western Messenia, at sites such as Voidokoilia and Tragana/Romanos. By the start of the 2nd millennium B.C., several hamlets had been established on the Englianos ridge. At the time of the transition between the Middle and Late Bronze Age (1700-1600 B.C.), richly appointed beehive (tholos) tombs to the east and west of the acropolis of Englianos signal the presence in the area of privileged elites who maintained contacts with Minoan Crete. In the same period, the existence of early fortifications on the acropolis of Englianos bears witness to the presence already of a powerful regional center, which, during the 13th century, would enjoy its heyday. After a series of building phases, a splendid palatial complex was built, one with obvious Minoan influences in its architecture and art. No longer in need of protection from fortifications, the site we call the Palace of Nestor had become the political and economic center of an extensive Mycenaean kingdom and exerted administrative control over neighboring communities that had previously been independent. It then stood in the middle of a large town with several thousand inhabitants, including slaves, many of them captured in distant lands.
In spite of the destruction of the palace about 1200 B.C. and only sporadic occupation on the ridge in the Early Iron Age (1060-900 B.C.), the memory of a once glorious kingdom was bequeathed to successive generations. Homer in the 8th century B.C. refers to the powerful kingdom of sandy Pylos and the palace of Nestor, son of Neleus. The traveler Pausanias in the second century A.D., having read the Homeric texts, visited Pylos, which was in his day located on the peninsula of Koryfasion. For his account he drew on oral traditions and personal observation, asserting that Homeric Pylos was there. However, the discovery of the palatial complex on the Englianos ridge and of Linear B tablets supports the hypothesis that both the capital of the Homeric kingdom of Pylos and the Homeric palace of Nestor were located here, inaugurating a new era in the investigation of the Mycenaean past of Greece.

The Excavation

A Short History

Current State

From 2011 to 2015 the Ephorate of Antiquities of Messenia (the former 38th EPKA) and the Directorate of Studies and Conduct of Technical Works in Museums and Cultural Buildings of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports carried out the following projects: 1. Protection and Enhancement of the Archaeological Site of the Palace of Nestor on the Ano Englianos Hill, Chora, Messenia (budget €450,000) and 2. Construction of New Protective Shelter at the Palace of Nestor, Ano Englianos, Messenia (budget €2,068,400), included in the priority axis "08- Sustainable Development and Quality of Life in Peloponnese" of the Regional Operational Programme "Western Greece, Peloponnese and Ionian Islands 2007-2013," co-funded by the Hellenic Republic and the European Regional Development Fund.
The 2,300 m2 metal shelter, constructed by the Greek Archaeological Service in 1961 with 47 support columns made of Dexion, was in poor condition. It was replaced with the new steel shelter, which protects a 3,185 m2 area of the central palatial monument. The roof is 51.50 m. wide and has the geometry of an arc with a beam of 84:88 m. It is supported by only 8 columns on each of its long sides. A network of metal walkways suspended from the roof allows visitors to explore the palace from above, while a special elevator provides access for people with disabilities.
During the replacement of the old shelter, all necessary archaeological research was conducted and documented. For the enhanced protection of the monument, its sensitive parts were protected with wooden boxes, its interior spaces were filled with special aggregates, and the entire Main Building was finally covered with a single wooden floor.
The new infrastructure permits visitors to explore the site and provides them with information, refreshments, and sanitation facilities, while paying special attention to people with disabilities. These improvements ensure that the site is secure and highly functional, so that visitors uniquely experience the Mycenaean past of Messenia.

The pictures below show the site in its current state (all were taken in May 2018). The ordering follows the natural walking route at the site. Tip: hover over images to show room number annotations.

Nearby Sites

The Archeological Museum of Chora

The archeological museum in Chora is a 10 minute drive away from the site. The relatively small (3 rooms) museum houses finds from the palace (rooms 2-3) as well as some finds from excavations in the neighbourhood and in the regions of Pylia and Trifylia (rooms 1 and 3). Outside, busts of archeologists Carl Blegen and Spyridon Marinatos can be found on both sides of the entrance walkway, which itself is shaped after the floor plan of the Throne Room.

The museum's Wikipedia entry contains detailed information on the displays. For contact information and opening times, see the Ministry of Culture web page.

A Selection of Finds

The Palace of Nestor in Literature

Pylos is mentioned a number of times in Homer's Odyssey, it being the place that Telemachus, son of Odysseus, visits first on his journey to learn about the fate of his father. King Nestor of Pylos was a friend of Odysseus and they fought together in the war against Troy. In the Odyssey, the name of Pylos is often accompanied by the epiphet 'sandy' (ἠμαθόεις), or 'sacred' (ἠγάθεος).

The most-cited passage concerning Pylos and the palace of Nestor is when Telemachus speaks to his mother Penelope about his journey (Book XVII, 109-113):

ᾠχόμεθ᾽ ἔς τε Πύλον καὶ Νέστορα, ποιμένα λαῶν:
δεξάμενος δέ με κεῖνος ἐν ὑψηλοῖσι δόμοισιν
ἐνδυκέως ἐφίλει, ὡς εἴ τε πατὴρ ἑὸν υἱὸν
ἐλθόντα χρόνιον νέον ἄλλοθεν: ὣς ἐμὲ κεῖνος
ἐνδυκέως ἐκόμιζε σὺν υἱάσι κυδαλίμοισιν.

We went to Pylos and to Nestor, the shepherd of the people,
and he received me in his lofty house and gave me kindly welcome,
as a father might his own son who after a long time had newly come
from a far: even so kindly he tended me with his glorious sons.*

* English translation by A.T. Murray, Ph.D (1919, see Bibliography).

However, there are a couple more interesting passages that deal with Nestor's Palace. The entire Book III concerns Telemachus' visit to Nestor's Pylos and contains some descriptions of the palace. In the passage below, Telemachus and Athene (in the form of Mentor) have landed at the beach near Pylos and met with Nestor, who, together with his sons and subordinates, is in the process of making a grand sacrifice to Poseidon. Telemachus introduces himself to Nestor and they talk about Troy, Odysseus and Agamemnon's fate. At sunset, Telemachus and Athene get ready to return to their ship, but Nestor invites them to stay at his home (Book III, 346-355):

Ζεὺς τό γ᾽ ἀλεξήσειε καὶ ἀθάνατοι θεοὶ ἄλλοι,
ὡς ὑμεῖς παρ᾽ ἐμεῖο θοὴν ἐπὶ νῆα κίοιτε
ὥς τέ τευ ἦ παρὰ πάμπαν ἀνείμονος ἠδὲ πενιχροῦ,
ᾧ οὔ τι χλαῖναι καὶ ῥήγεα πόλλ᾽ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ,
οὔτ᾽ αὐτῷ μαλακῶς οὔτε ξείνοισιν ἐνεύδειν.
αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ πάρα μὲν χλαῖναι καὶ ῥήγεα καλά.
οὔ θην δὴ τοῦδ᾽ ἀνδρὸς Ὀδυσσῆος φίλος υἱὸς
νηὸς ἐπ᾽ ἰκριόφιν καταλέξεται, ὄφρ᾽ ἂν ἐγώ γε
ζώω, ἔπειτα δὲ παῖδες ἐνὶ μεγάροισι λίπωνται,
ξείνους ξεινίζειν, ὅς τίς κ᾽ ἐμὰ δώμαθ᾽ ἵκηται.

This may Zeus forbid, and the other immortal gods,
that ye should go from my house to your swift ship
as from one utterly without raiment and poor,
who has not cloaks and blankets in plenty in his house,
whereon both he and his guests may sleep softly.
Nay, in my house there are cloaks and fair blankets.
Never surely shall the dear son of this man Odysseus
lie down upon the deck of a ship, while I yet live
and children after me are left in my halls
to entertain strangers, even whosoever shall come to my house.

After his plea, Athene decides that Telemachus should go with Nestor to sleep in his palace, while she herself will return to the ship. Flying off in the form of a sea eagle, everyone is now aware that Telemachus had been accompanied by the goddess Athene. Nestor prays to her and promises a sacrifice (on the next day). Finally, Nestor leads Telemachus to his palace, where they pray and offer libations to Athene. (Book III, 386-394):

τοῖσιν δ᾽ ἡγεμόνευε Γερήνιος ἱππότα Νέστωρ,
υἱάσι καὶ γαμβροῖσιν, ἑὰ πρὸς δώματα καλά.
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δώμαθ᾽ ἵκοντο ἀγακλυτὰ τοῖο ἄνακτος,
ἑξείης ἕζοντο κατὰ κλισμούς τε θρόνους τε:
τοῖς δ᾽ ὁ γέρων ἐλθοῦσιν ἀνὰ κρητῆρα κέρασσεν
οἴνου ἡδυπότοιο, τὸν ἑνδεκάτῳ ἐνιαυτῷ
ὤιξεν ταμίη καὶ ἀπὸ κρήδεμνον ἔλυσε:
τοῦ ὁ γέρων κρητῆρα κεράσσατο, πολλὰ δ᾽ Ἀθήνῃ
εὔχετ᾽ ἀποσπένδων, κούρῃ Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο.

Then the horseman, Nestor of Gerenia, led them,
his sons and the husbands of his daughters, to his beautiful palace.
And when they reached the glorious palace of the king,
they sat down in rows on the chairs and high seats;
and on their coming the old man mixed for them a bowl of sweet wine,
which now in the eleventh year the housewife opened,
when she had loosed the string that held the lid.
Thereof the old man bade mix a bowl, and earnestly he prayed,
as he poured libations, to Athena, the daughter of Zeus who bears the aegis.

Immediately following this passage, Nestor, his sons and Telemachus retire for the night: Telemachus, along with Peisistratus, "on a corded bedstead under the echoing portico" (Portico (4) on the key map?), while Nestor slept "in the inmost chamber of the lofty house" (unknown?), together with his wife (Book III, 395-403):

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ σπεῖσάν τ᾽ ἔπιον θ᾽, ὅσον ἤθελε θυμός,
οἱ μὲν κακκείοντες ἔβαν οἶκόνδε ἕκαστος,
τὸν δ᾽ αὐτοῦ κοίμησε Γερήνιος ἱππότα Νέστωρ,
Τηλέμαχον, φίλον υἱὸν Ὀδυσσῆος θείοιο,
τρητοῖς ἐν λεχέεσσιν ὑπ᾽ αἰθούσῃ ἐριδούπῳ,
πὰρ᾽ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐυμμελίην Πεισίστρατον, ὄρχαμον ἀνδρῶν,
ὅς οἱ ἔτ᾽ ἠίθεος παίδων ἦν ἐν μεγάροισιν:
αὐτὸς δ᾽ αὖτε καθεῦδε μυχῷ δόμου ὑψηλοῖο,
τῷ δ᾽ ἄλοχος δέσποινα λέχος πόρσυνε καὶ εὐνήν.

But when they had poured libations, and had drunk to their heart's content,
they went, each to his home, to take their rest.
But the horseman, Nestor of Gerenia,
bade Telemachus, the dear son of divine Odysseus,
to sleep there on a corded bedstead under the echoing portico,
and by him Peisistratus, of the good ashen spear, a leader of men,
who among his sons was still unwed in the palace.
But he himself slept in the inmost chamber of the lofty house,
and beside him lay the lady his wife, who had strewn the couch.

The next day, Nestor seats himself on stones (a stone bench or some kind of throne?) outside his doors, although it is unclear where this would be exactly (Book III, 404-408):

ἦμος δ᾽ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
ὤρνυτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐξ εὐνῆφι Γερήνιος ἱππότα Νέστωρ,
ἐκ δ᾽ ἐλθὼν κατ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἕζετ᾽ ἐπὶ ξεστοῖσι λίθοισιν,
οἵ οἱ ἔσαν προπάροιθε θυράων ὑψηλάων,
λευκοί, ἀποστίλβοντες ἀλείφατος: [...]

Soon as early Dawn appeared, the rosy-fingered,
up from his bed rose the horseman, Nestor of Gerenia,
and went forth and sat down on the polished stones
which were before his lofty doors,
white and glistening as with oil.

Preparations are made for the sacrifice to Athene and a heifer with gilded horns is ritually offered in her presence. Before the feast begins, Telemachus is bathed (perhaps in Room 43?) by Polycaste, Nestor's youngest daughter (Book III, 464-469):

τόφρα δὲ Τηλέμαχον λοῦσεν καλὴ Πολυκάστη,
Νέστορος ὁπλοτάτη θυγάτηρ Νηληϊάδαο.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ λοῦσέν τε καὶ ἔχρισεν λίπ᾽ ἐλαίῳ,
ἀμφὶ δέ μιν φᾶρος καλὸν βάλεν ἠδὲ χιτῶνα,
ἔκ ῥ᾽ ἀσαμίνθου βῆ δέμας ἀθανάτοισιν ὁμοῖος:
πὰρ δ᾽ ὅ γε Νέστορ᾽ ἰὼν κατ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἕζετο, ποιμένα λαῶν.

Meanwhile the fair Polycaste,
the youngest daughter of Nestor, son of Neleus, bathed Telemachus.
And when she had bathed him and anointed him richly with oil,
and had cast about him a fair cloak and a tunic,
forth from the bath he came in form like unto the immortals;
and he went and sat down by Nestor, the shepherd of the people.

(In the remaining lines of Book III, Telemachus leaves Pylos by land in a well-equipped chariot, together with Nestor's son Peisistratus. They start their journey to Lacedaemon, where Menelaus lives, who can hopefully tell them more about Odysseus' fate.)

The Palace of Nestor in Arts

The most renowned illustrations of the palace are surely the watercolors by Piet de Jong, made during the original excavations of the palace (1952-1966). A lot of artistic freedom is applied in these illustrations: basically everything above the level of the dado is conjecture, including the coloring and patterns on the pillars and the entire roof and balcony. Later analysis of the frescos in the throne room showed very different scenes than those envisioned by De Jong, but the overall impression of grandeur that the throne room must have displayed is very well captured to say the least!

throne room (PdJ) courtyard (PdJ)
The throne room and courtyard of Nestor's palace. Watercolors by Piet de Jong (1956).

Two more nice illustrations of the palace are by Balage Balogh, whose work can be found on his website Archeology Illustrated. His illustration of the palace as seen from a bird's eye view contains quite a bit of artistic freedom regarding the enclosing walls and surrounding structures, but the placement of the palace in the landscape, with the Bay of Navarino in the background, is magnificent. The throne room illustration clearly draws inspiration from Piet de Jong's watercolor version, but has its own take on the color of the pillars and the floor motifs. The second floor with balcony seems to be absent in this drawing.

birds eye view(BB) throne room (BB)
Bird's eye view of the palace complex and inside view of the throne room. Illustrations by Balage Balogh.

Another magnificent illustration of the palace is an aerial view from South-Southeast direction, part of which can also be found on one of the information panels at the site. Again, it should be noted that artistic freedom is richly applied with respect to the abundant presence of merlons.

aerial view
Aerial view of the palace. Illustration by Alan Sorrell (The Illustrated London News, April 7, 1956).

Bibliography

Propylon, Outer Porch (1)

Outer Propylon.

Propylon, Inner Porch (2)

Inner Propylon

Court of the Megaron (3)

Portico of the Megaron (4)

Vestibule of the Megaron (5)

Throne Room (6)

Archives Room (7)

Archives Room (8)

Room 9

Room 10 (Waiting Room)

Lobby 11

Room 12

Corridor 13

Southwest Stairway 14-15

Room 15

Room 16

Room 17

Room 18

Room 19

Room 20

Room 21

Room 22

Room 23

Room 24

Northeast Corridor, Section 25

Corridor 26

Room 27

Northeast Corridor, Section 28

Lobby 29

Room 30

Room 31

Room 32

Room 33

Room 34

Northeast Corridor, Section 35

Northeast Stairway 36

Corridor 37

Room 38

Room 39

Room 40

Northeast Gateway 41

Court 42

Room 43

Northeast Stoa 44

Southeast Corridor, Section 45

Hall 46

Court 47

Corridor 48

Corridor 49

Room 50

Southeast Corridor, Section 51

Southeast Corridor, Section 52

Room 53

Southeast Stairway 54

Room 55

Room 56

Room 57

Court 58

Ramp 59

Room 60

Corridor 61

Room 62

Court 63

Hall 64

Hall 65

Lobby 66

Room 67

Room 68

Stairway 69

Corridor 70

Room 71

Room 72

Room 73

Room 74

Lobby 75

Area 76

Room 77

Room 78

Lobby 79

Rooms 80 and 81

Room 82

Rooms 83, 84, 85, 86

Circular Structure 87

Court 88

Rooms 89, 90

Ramp 91

Court 92

Room 93

Colonnade 94

Corridor 95

Room 96

Room 97

Room 98

Room 99

Room 100

Area 101

Area 102

Area 103

Room 104

Room 105