25km (15 miles) SE of Corinth; 35km (21 miles) N of Argos

Nemea is a gem of a site, with a restored stadium, a temple with standing columns, and the most appealing and helpful small museum in the Peloponnese. The more famous Panhellenic Games were held every 4 years at Olympia and Delphi, but there were also games every 2 years at Isthmia, near Corinth, and at Nemea, in a gentle valley in the eastern foothills of the Arcadian Mountains, from about 573 B.C. to 100 B.C. Like those at Delphi, Olympia, and Corinth, the games attracted athletes from throughout the Greek world. Around 100 B.C., Nemea's powerful neighbor Argos moved the festival from Nemea to Argos, putting an end to the Games here. But, thanks to the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, the Games were held here for the first time in 2,000 years on June 1, 1996, when 1,000 contestants from around the world, ranging in age from 12 to 90, participated. So, when you visit Nemea, you won't see just the stadium where athletes once contended, but also the site of the new Nemean Games. Contestants run barefoot, as in antiquity, but wear short tunics rather than run naked. If you want to know more about the Nemean Games, contact the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games (tel. 510/642-5924 in the U.S.; https://nemeangames.org/).

Two excellent site guides should be on sale at the museum: Nemea (10€) and The Ancient Stadium of Nemea (2€). You'll find shady spots to read them both at the site and at the stadium.

The Nemean Games: Born in Legend

The most popular legend has it that the Nemean games were founded to honor Hercules, who slew a ferocious lion lurking in a den outside Nemea—the first of 12 labors he was assigned by King Eurystheus in penance for killing his own children. According to another myth, however, the games were founded to honor Opheltes, son of the Nemean king. The oracle at Delphi predicted the baby prince would remain healthy if he remained off the ground until he could walk. One day his nursemaid set him down in a bed of parsley while she showed soldiers the way to a spring; in her absence, a serpent strangled the boy. This story explains why judges at the games wore black in mourning, and the victor was crowned with a wreath of parsley.