Sanctuary of Zeus in Nemea
The temple stands at the end of the Classical Doric temple tradition and at the beginning of the new Hellenistic combination of architectural forms.
The temple was slightly shorter than the generic Classical proportion (6x13), as it had six columns across the ends and twelve on the sides (6x12). Three columns have always stood since the time of the original construction of the temple.
The temple lacks the opisthodomos which was a characteristic of the older Classical tradition. There was an extension of the interior which represents the adyton which contained an unknown sunken crypt. The interior cella was front-east of the adyton, and had 14 Corinthian columns on the floor level, with Ionic columns above.
It was one of the first ancient buildings to combine all three architectural orders.
In 1884 CE French archaeologists made surface excavations following the drainage of the valley by French engineers the previous year. More comprehensive excavations were carried out between 1924-6 CE under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, once again in 1964 CE and then more systematically from 1973 CE by the University of California at Berkeley, which continues to the present day to excavate and manage the site and museum.
Reconstruction program for the Temple of Zeus:
- 2002 - two columns re-erected and added to the orignal three columns
- 2012 - four more columns added
At this sanctuary the god that was worshipped was Nemean Zeus (entirely different from the Olympian Zeus), who is the god of shepherds and shepherding.
The town of Nemea was known in Greek myth as the home of the Nemean Lion, which was killed by the hero Heracles. It was only known as the area where the son of the Nemean king Lycurgus, the baby Opheltes, was killed by a serpent
The two main places of sacrifice at the Sanctuary of Zeus where the temple of Zeus and the Shrine of Opheltes.
The shrine to Opheltes was built on a small man-made mound and covered an area of 850 square metres enclosed by a low stone wall. Within were two altars, a cenotaph to commemorate Opheltes and at least some trees planted to form a sacred grove in one corner. The 4th century BCE shrine was a renovation of the earlier 6th century one and archaeological evidence demonstrates that the altars were used for animal sacrifice, the pouring of libations and the giving of votive offerings such as small statues and pottery. The triple reservoirs measure 3 x 9.8 m and reach a depth of 8 m; their exact function is not known.
The Nemean Games were held in the town of Nemea from 573 BCE until 271 BCE, after which, the Games were definitively moved to Argos. The Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea was the centre of the Games. The events of the Nemean Games were held over several days and were usually shortly after the summer solstice.
The historical significance of the town of Nemea is that it was the home of the Nemean Games, which the Seven founded in the memory of the infant Opheltes. The sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea was the centre of the Games.
Who used the site, and where did they come from?
It was here that the athletes and visitors from other city states lodged, as well as housing the staff of the Games, such as priests, caretakers and judges. There was also a practice track for athletes with a small, two-man, starting line. This site was mainly used by athletes and pilgrims for either visiting, sacrifice or participation in the Games.
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