Journey through Ancient
Ancient Nemea was not a city but, like Olympia, both a sanctuary to Zeus and a panhellenic games venue. As it has only recently been excavated (by Stephen Miller of Berkeley University, California) unlike Olympia the crowds haven't yet discovered it, and, it doesn't appear in Greek guides. There are no spectacular sculptures here as at Olympia and Delphi but this is one of my favourite sites with an excellent museum which really tries to help us understand the exhibits and the ruins.
The setting is beautiful with many
trees, lawns and rose beds, and marble picnic tables.
Nemea is in a fertile valley and is becoming famous
nowadays as a wine producing area.
In the foyer are some interesting old pictures showing the sanctuary from 1766 through to the 19th century, including a sketch by Edward Lear. These illustrations show that although the capital on one of the columns looks very precarious it has not moved in hundreds of years, despite earthquakes in the area.
In the main room the first thing to catch your attention is a huge window with a stunning view of the Sanctuary of Zeus and in front of the window a model of the site as it was in 300 BC. This makes it much easier to visualise. (the cypress trees you can see rather in the way were planted fairly recently to replicate the sacred grove of antiquity). To the right is a model of the stadium
The tiny bronze figurine of Opheltes and the terracotta statuette of a baby boy holding a mask to his face, thought to be also Opheltes. llustrations and explanations of the ancient games- wrestling, boxing, jumping, running, discus and horse racing and the starting block from the stadium. Examples ofjumping weights (with an inscription), an iron discus (weighing 8.5 kg).
The short video explaining the starting mechanismfor the races is well worth watching. Most of the information on ancient Nemea comes from the artefacts disposed of in wells, some of which are in on view,including the 6th century BC bronze hydria with a Kore head on the handle. In the courtyard are many pieces of column shafts, drums and capitals, sima (gutters) and so on from the oikoi and temple and a Doric capital from the bath house.
Bronze of Opheltes
From the museum we go through the rose garden along a flagstone path passing remains of domestic houses on either side; there are signs of a well, hearths and of cooking. The path then turns left where there is a medieval grave, typical of many found at Nemea. Just north of the path are the remains of the early Christian Basilica (6th century AD) and the 4th century BC Xenon (hotel) which lies beneath it. Coming back down the steps of the Basilica we cross over to the bath house built in the last third of the 4th century BC, it is one of the earliest bathing systems known in the Greek world and the most complete we can see today. The chamber is divided into three parts each with four stone tubs placed end to end along the rear wall. V shaped notches allowed water to flow from one tub to another.
Temple of Zeus was constructed circa 330 BC on
the site of an earlier 6th century temple. It was built
mostly in limestone quarried locally,and covered with
white stucco to decorate and protect it. The temple
contains all three architectural 'orders'; an exterior
Doric peristyle and an interior Corinthian colonnade
round the naos, on top of which was a second story of
Ionic columns. The Doric columns were particularly
slender, more like Ionic ones (much taller and slimmer
than the ones we see in the temple of Apollo at Corinth.)
At the rear of the naos is a sunken crypt which had six
steps down into it of which three remain. The purpose of
this is not certain, it was possibly the site of a local
oracle. The cult statue was already missing when
Pausanius visited Nemea in the 2nd century AD. The
altar of Zeus was an unusually long and narrow
rectangle of limestone blocks. This was constructed in
the 5th century BC and was mentioned by Pindar. Next to
the temple was the Sacred Grove of cypress trees. New cypress
trees have been planted in the ancient planting
Columns of the temple of Zeus
The tunnel from the stadium
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