Wine, Sports and Temples to Zeus – Nemea style

ImageThe Nemea valley is located in the interior of the Peleponnesse at something of a natural cross roads.  As such, it evolved as the location for the Panhellenian Games of Nemea.  The Nemean games were established in the early 6th century BC  and modeled on the Olympic games.  Located at the site was an impressive temple to Zeus. The temple was leveled by an earthquake long ago. Some columns stand, others are being restacked and others lay where they fell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One can walk all around the site, it is an awesome feeling to walk the grounds and in the temple and consider the footsteps you in which you are following.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stadium is carved out of a depression in the rock. Like most of the ancient stadiums, the athletes enter through a tunnel in the side of the stadium.  The tunnel for this stadium still remains and is one of the earliest examples of vaulted construction in Greece.  You can run through it and on the the field if you like, who wouldn’t?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stadium is used to this day. Each year, the Nemean games are held here.  Back in the day, there were two classes of races. In one, the athletes ran in full armor of that time.  In the other, they ran in the buff, no shoes or anything, just a good coat of olive oil.  These days, the competitors wear a tunic, sorry. Here is a view from the floor looking toward the open end of the stadium.  Unfortunately, the Greeks don’t really promote such events.  They seem to get only local promotion. I think that such an event with the ties it has to the past could make it an international event and a boon for the local economy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the field are channels that supplied water for the competitors and to water the dirt field itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One really cool thing about this site is that the starting line and elements of a really clever starting gate system remain.  There are two grooves running the length of the starting line, one for each foot.  Stretched in front of the runners was a pivoting fence with two rope lines (like fence rails) marking the starting line strung between two end “fence posts.”  At each end, the “fence posts” were actually built like small vertical catapults. When they were triggered, they would quickly swing forward and down to the ground. That was the signal to start running.  The clever Greeks spaced the two rope “fence rails” such that if you started a bit early (before the starting gate was completely down), one or both of your feet would get caught and you would trip and fall, disqualifying you.  Then they would cut your head off and feed you to the lions (not really, I made that part up, but maybe the Romans did that).  Here you can see the starting line with the toe grooves but without the now-gone starting gate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we have an example of a Greek athlete in his prime demonstrating the starting stance. Unfortunately we could not convince Mike to adopt either of the styles of dress (or lack thereof) used by the original runners, sorry again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The baths associated with this area are pretty well preserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even plumbing remains, which I have only seen evidence of for Roman ruins here in Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is also is the center of an ancient wine producing region that dates back some 7000 years and is active to this day. Wines from this area were prized across all of Greece. My next post will be about vineyards we visited.  Fields of grapes are visible near the temple of Zeus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 responses to this post.

  1. In the book I bought in the taverna where we had lunch in Nemea, I read that the Nemea games were started as funeral games. It seems an army from Argos — the Seven Against Thebes — were marching north when they came into Nemea looking for water. The nurse for the king’s son showed them to a spring but she laid the king’s son under a canopy of wild celery, and he was killed by a snake. In tribute to the boy, the seven Argolan generals held funeral games nearby. The traditional was continued and eventually the games became “panhellenic” or for all of the hellenes in the world. Throughout the history of the Nemean Games, however, the judges always wore black robes as a reminder that the games had started as funeral games, and the victors were always crowned with wreaths of wild celery.

    Reply

  2. Mike, thanks much for this and all your other comments. I count on you to keep me straight and to fill in “the rest of the story.”

    Reply

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