On Saturday 18th April, 2015 it was National Museum day so we decided to visit the archaeological site of Nemea, which is about 45 km north-west to Assini.
The site of ancient Nemea lies in a small upland valley. Its name derives from the Greek word “nemos”, which means meadow, pasture. Its location, which was in neutral ground, on the borders of Achaia, Arkadia, Argolis and Corinthia, was ideal for the creation of a panhellenic religious centre and the conduct of the fourth panhellenic games, the Nemean Games.
The sanctuary only came to life during the summer, when the Nemean Games took place. Therefore, it was always controlled by the nearby city-states, originally by Kleonae, with Argos becoming dominant in the 5th century BC.
The first building activity dates back to the early 6th century BC, when the early Temple of Zeus (Naos tou Dios) and the Heroon of Opheltes were constructed. Towards the end of the 5th century BC, the sanctuary was destroyed and, as a result, in the following years the games were held in Argos.
In 330 BC, the games returned to Neamea; this was probably connected with the panhellenic politics of the Macedonians. At the same time, the Temple of Zeus was reconstructed, on of the first buildings to combine all three ancient Greek architectural orders (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian); several buildings were also constructed in order to serve more practical needs: the “Xenon” (guest-house), the “Oikoi” (houses), the Baths and the Dining Area.
In 271 BC the games were transferred yet again to Argos and after that, the Nemean sanctuary was gradually abandoned.
In the early-Christian era (late 4th-5th century AD) a large agricultural settlement was created on the site. In 453 AD, the emperor Theodosius banned all pagan activities and so began the systematic destruction of the Temple of Zeus; its architectural members were used for the construction of a Basilica with a central nave and one aisle at each side. The settlement was abandoned around 580 AD.
The Nemea Stadium lies 450 m South-East of the Temple of Zeus. It was closely connected with it, since it constituted the main locale of the Nemean Games, one of the four ancient Greek festivals to be elevated to a panbhellenic status.
According to one myth, the games were instituted to commemorate the death of Opheltes, the son of Lycurgus, King – pries of Nemea. A second myth though, points to the panhellenic status of the festival, attributing to Hercules the institution of the Games, to offer thanks to Zeus for helping him accomplish his first labour, killing the lion of Nemea. The Games took place every two years and included musical, theatrical and mainly athletic events.
Around 415 BC, the majority of the sanctuary of Zeus was destroyed and, as a result,, in the following years the Games were held in Argos. In 330 BC, the Argives decided to undertake a building programme in Nemea and proceed to re-establish the Games there. Nevertheless, the Games returned to Argos in 271 BC, until AD 393, when the Emperor Theodosius banned them.
The Stadium was constructed in 330 – 320 BC as part of the Argive building programme and remained in use until 271 BC. Its track was 600 ancient feet long (about 178 m) was bordered by a stone water-channel with stone basins at intervals for drinking water.
The starting line, the “Balbis”, consisted of a line of stones, while it also included the “hysplex”, a starting mechanism allowing the athletes to have consistently fair starts to races.
The majority of the spectators sat on the sloping ground, since only a few stone seats were discovered on the west side of the stadium. The judges, called “Hellanodikae”, had a special platform on the east side of the Stadium, from where they could oversee the Games.
In a natural depression east of the Stadium lie the remains of a rectangular building with a central portico, the “Apodyteirion” (changing room) of the Stadium. This is where the athletes prepared for the upcoming competitions.
In order to enter the Stadium the athletes had to pass through the “Krypte Eisodos” (hidden entrance), a 36 metres long barrel vaulted tunnel,
The bath, circa 320 BC, consists of a large square room on the east with four bases for columns to support the roof and a room on the west with two rows of five columns also to support the roof.
The area south of the southern row of five columns is a sunken bathing chamber with two side rooms with tubs or basins and a central pool for plunge baths.
South of this area is a system of reservoirs for feeding the proper amount of water to tubs and pool. The water was brought by a terracotta aqueduct from a spring on the slopes of the eastern side of the valley which marked today by a grove of cypress trees beyond the contemporary cemetery.
The museum was founded by the University of California, thanks to a donation of Rudolph A. Peterson. Destined initially to serve the research and educational purposes of the University’s excavation project at the sanctuary of Zeus, the museum was subsequently donated to the Greek state and in 1984 opened to the public, as Archaeological Museum of Nemea.
Besides the exhibits from the Zeus’ sanctuary, the museum collections include finds from various archaeological sites in the Nemea region, which span from the Early Neolithic to the Byzantine times.
If you are visiting Nafplion and would like to combine a visit to the wineries and learn Greek Cuisine, please contact me at ivyliacopoulou AT gmail DOT com