Ruled by King Lycurgus and Queen Eurydice, Nemea was famous in Greek myth as the home of the Nemean Lion, killed by the hero Heracles, and as the place where the infant Opheltes, lying on a bed of parsley, was killed by a serpent while his nurse fetched water for the Seven on their way from Argos to Thebes. The Seven founded the Nemean Games in his memory, according to its aition, or founding myth, accounting for the crown of victory being made of parsley or the wild form of celery and for the black robes of the judges, interpreted as a sign of mourning. The Nemean Games were documented from 573 BC, or earlier, at the sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea. They attracted attendees from all over Greece.
The Temple of Nemean Zeus whose ruins are visible today was erected in about 330 BC; three of its columns, have stood since their construction, with the rest having been re-erected in various phases. This temple marks the end of the Classical period and the beginning of other developments in Hellenistic architecture. Excavations around around the temple have revealed a great open-air altar, baths, and ancient accommodations for visitors. The temple stands on the site of an Archaic period temple, of which only a foundation wall is still visible. The stadion has recently been discovered. It is notable for its well-preserved vaulted entrance tunnel, dated to about 320 BC, with ancient graffiti on the walls. The material discovered in the excavations is on display in an on-site museum. In 2018, archaeologists discovered a large, intact tomb dating to the early Mycenaean era (1650–1400 B.C.).
The Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea developed in the beginning of the 6th century BC, with the institution of the Panhellenic Nemean Games in a region where human activity had been present since prehistoric times. The first temple of Zeus and the first two phases of the Heraion (a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Hera) were constructed during the Archaic period while nine “Oikoi-Treasuries” were erected in the 5th century BC. At the end of the 4th century BC, a new temple of Zeus, baths, a hostel, a stadium, and the 3rd phase of the Heraion were built. After the transfer of the games to Argos, in 270 BC, the sanctuary fell into decline. During the 5th and the 6th centuries AD, a small community grew in the vicinity and a basilica was erected on the ruins of the hostel. This community was dissolved during the raids of the Slavs in 580-590 AD.
The Stadium of Nemea, which could accommodate 40.000 spectators, was built at the end of the 4th century BC and located 400 meters SE of the Temple of Zeus. The track (total length of 178m) was bordered by a stone water-channel with stone basins at intervals for drinking water. The stone starting line was on its western extremity. A rectangular building with an internal colonnade on its western side served probably as a “changing room”. From it, the athletes and the judges entered the Stadium through a vaulted tunnel. The spectators sat in roughly levelled terraces (degrees), cut in the soft rock, while two or three rows of seats were constructed between the starting-line and the stoas.
Source: Greek Travel Pages.
Nemea today is one of Greece’s most important wine-growing regions, its ancient sites now surrounded by vineyards. It is best known for production of the classic Greek varietal Agiorgitiko.