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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites

Nemea

  The site of the Panhellenic Games, of which the Sanctuary of Nemean Zeus formed the dominant element, lies at the head of the valley of the Nemea river, ca. 19 km N of Argos and 18 km from the Gulf of Corinth. Originally the games were local and under the control of Kleonai. In 573 B.C. the games were incorporated into the Panhellenic schedule and held every other year. By the middle of the 5th c. the games were presided over by Argos. In the first half of the 4th c. the games appear to have been transferred to Argos itself. Aratos of Sikyon tried to restore the games to their original site on the Nemea river in 235 B.C., but without success (Plut. Arat. 28). In 145 B.C. Mummius appears to have revived the games on their original site; Argos succeeded in becoming, however, the home of the games during the Roman period. There is no archaeological evidence that winter games were held within the limits of the ancient Nemean sanctuary during the Hadrianic period. The site of Nemea was reoccupied in the 4th and 5th c. A.D. by the Christians, when a basilica and baptistery were erected there, largely with blocks from the Temple of Zeus.
  The site has been excavated intermittently since 1884. The pottery and small finds are stored in the archaeological museum in ancient Corinth; coins from the early American excavations are in the National Museum of Athens.
  The 4th c. Temple of Zeus lies on the E bank of the Nemea river. It is built of limestone, on the foundations of the S side of an earlier temple, probably erected in the archaic period. The later temple, of which three columns still stand, was completed in the twenties of the 4th c. It is peripteral, with 6 columns across the ends, 12 along the flanks. The columns are extremely attenuated, with a height 7.34 times their lower diameter. The temple had no opisthodomus. Inside, the cella had freestanding Corinthian columns along both side walls and across its W end. These were surmounted by Ionic half-columns applied to piers. The cella had a reserved area or adyton at its W end, in which stairs led down into a crypt. The floor of the crypt appears to have been the ground level of the earlier temple. The only marble used in the temple was the sima, in design slightly resembling that of the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea. There are other stylistic resemblances between the two temples; these are not strong enough, however, to demand the conclusion that a single architect designed both buildings.
  To the E of the temple lies the foundation of an altar 41 m long, which extends N beyond the limits of the N side of the 4th c. temple. The altar appears to have been built in two phases; apparently the early altar was centered on the long axis of the earlier temple and then extended S to go with the later temple.
  Between 33 and 42 m S of the temple is a line of three buildings; the one farthest E has not been completely excavated. Only foundations of these structures are preserved. The building farthest W, a large rectangular structure with two interior columns, may have been a lesche. The two buildings at its E have wide foundations on their N ends, designed to carry columned facades. The two buildings may have been treasuries facing the temple.
  Farther to the S, about 72 m from the temple, is a building 86 m long, separated by a space of about 9 m from a rectangular building at its W. The W structure is a three-roomed bath. The SW corner room still has its basins and plunge preserved. The room has been roofed and now serves as an archaeological storeroom for the site. The long building at the E appears to have been divided into five units which opened onto a roadway running along the S. Each of these units held facilities for drinking and eating; the building probably served as a xenon. Both bath and xenon were built in the second half of the 4th c., immediately after the construction of the later Temple of Zeus. (The xenon was built over a kiln that made the roof tiles for the temple.) Both xenon and bath were aligned with the roadway rather than with the temple.
  A Christian basilica was erected over the remains of the W end of the xenon. In form the church is a nave with both N and S side aisles, apse at the E, and narthex with subsidiary rooms at the W. The baptistery lies against the N wall of the basilica and has a circular baptismal basin in the center of the floor.
  The roadway at the S of the xenon led to the E slope of the valley on which today stands the ruin of a Turkish fountain-house. Slightly farther up the E slope is the water source that once fed it and which is identified as the Fountain of Adrastos. Here, according to legend, Opheltes, a babe yet unable to walk, was left by his nurse so that she could draw water for the Seven Warriors on their way to Thebes. The child was killed by a marauding serpent; the Nemean Games were then initiated in honor of the dead child. Pausanias (2.15.2-3) mentions a Temenos of Opheltes in which were altars to the hero, close by which was a tumulus for Lykourgos, his father. These probably stood close to the fountain. No physical remains, however, have been identified. A pit filled with votive pottery and terracotta figurines of the archaic period, apparently dedications to Demeter, was found on the slope farther to the S.
  The stadium for the games was built in a hollow in the E slope of the Nemean valley, SW of the fountain-house and about 500 m SE of the temple. This is now partially excavated. The long axis of the stadium is N-S, with the S end of the track dug into the hillside, the N end built out on an artificial terrace. The course was lined with water channels and settling basins. Seats for the spectators appear, however, never to have been built.

C. K. Williams, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.


Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Nemea

((Nemea) or Nemee (Nemee). A valley in Argolis between Cleonae and Phlius, celebrated in mythical story as the place where Heracles slew the Nemean lion. In this valley there was a splendid temple of Zeus Nemeus surrounded by a sacred grove, in which the Nemean Games were celebrated every other year.


Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

Nemea

  he Nemea, Ion. Nemee: Adj. Nemeios, Nemeaios, Nemeaeus. The name of a valley in the territory of Cleonae, where Hercules slew the Nemean lion, and where the Nemean games were celebrated every other year. It is described by Strabo as situated between Cleonae and Phlius (viii. p. 377). The valley lies in a direction nearly north and south, and is about two or three miles long, and from half to three quarters of a mile in breadth. It is shut in on every side by mountains, and is hence called by Pindar a deep vale (bathupedos, Nem. iii. 18.) There is a remarkable mountain on the NE., called in ancient times Apesas, now Fuka, nearly 3000 feet high, with a flat summit, which is visible from Argos and Corinth. On this mountain Perseus is said to have first sacrificed to Zeus Apesantius. (Paus. ii. 15. § 3; Steph. B. s. v. Apesas; Stat. Theb. iii. 460, seq.) Theocritus gives Nemea the epithet of well-watered (euudrou Nemees choros,, Theocr. xxv. 182). Several rivulets descend from the surrounding mountains, which collect in the plain, and form a river, which flows northward through the ridges of Apesas, and falls into the Corinthian gulf, forming in the lower part of its source the boundary between the territories of Sicyon and Corinth. This river also bore the name of Nemea (Strab. viii. p. 382; Diod. xiv. 83; Liv. xxxiii. 15); but as it was dependent for its supply of water upon the season of the year, it was sometimes called the Nemean Charadra. (Aesch. de Fals. Leg. § 168, ed. Bekker; he Charadra, Xen. Hell. iv. 2. 15) The mountains, which enclose the valley, have several natural caverns, one of which, at the distance of 15 stadia from the sacred grove of Nemea, and on the road named Tretus, from the latter place to Mycenae, was pointed out as the cave of the Nemean lion. (Paus. ii. 15. § 2.)
  The name of Nemea was strictly applied to the sacred grove in which the games were celebrated. Like Olympia and the sanctuary at the Corinthian Isthmus, it was not a town. The sacred grove contained only the temple, theatre, stadium, and other monuments. There was a village in the neighbourhood called Bembina, of which, however, the exact site is unknown. (Strab. viii. p. 377; Steph. B. s. v.) The haunts of the Nemean lion are said to have been near Bembina. (Theocr. xxv. 202.)
  The chief building in the sacred grove was the temple of Zeus Nemeius. the patron god of the place. When visited by Pausanias the roof had fallen, and the statue no longer remained (ii. 15. § 2). Three columns of the temple are still standing, amidst a vast heap of ruins. Two of these columns belonged to the pronaos, and were placed as usual between antae; they are 4 feet 7 inches in diameter at the base, and still support their architrave. The third column, which belonged to the outer range, is 5 feet 3 inches in diameter at the base, and about 34 feet high, including a capital of 2 feet. Its distance from the corresponding column of the pronaos is 18 feet. The total height of the three members of the entablature was 8 feet 2 inches. The general intercolumination of the peristyle was 7 feet; at the angles, 5 feet 10 inches. From the front of the pronaos to the extremity of the cell within, the length was 95 feet; the breadth of the cell within, 31 feet; the thickness of the walls, 3 feet. The temple was a hexastyle, of about 65 feet in breadth on the upper step of the stylobate, which consisted of three steps: the number of columns on the sides, and consequently the length of the temple, I could not ascertain. (Leake.) Though of the Doric order, the columns are as slender as some of the specimens of the Ionic, and are so different from the older Doric examples, that we ought probably to ascribe to the temple a date subsequent to the Persian wars.
  Among the other monuments in the sacred grove were the tombs of Opheltes, and of his father Lycurgus. The former was surrounded with a stone enclosure, and contained certain altars; the latter was a mound of earth. (Paus. ii. 15. § 3.) Pausanias also mentions a fountain called Adrasteia. The latter is, doubtless, the source of water near the Turkish fountain, which is now without water. At the foot of the mountain, to the left of this spot, are the remains of the stadium. Between the stadium and the temple of Zeus, on the left of the path, are some Hellenic foundations, and two. fragments of Doric columns. Near the temple are the ruins of a small church, which contains some Doric fragments.
(Leake, Morea, vol. iii. p. 327, seq.; Curtius, Peloponnesos, vol. ii. p. 505, seq.)

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


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