The Basilica Project
Aerial picture of the Early Christian Basilica
Along with the Temple of Zeus and the stadium, the early Christian Basilica is one of
Ancient Nemea’s major monuments. Considered one of the earliest Christian structures founded in the Peloponnese, the Basilica was constructed during the 5th century A.D., under the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Theodosius II. Situated approximately 100 meters south of the Temple of Zeus, like other monuments of its time, the Basilica was not only built on top of an earlier structure of antiquity, in this case the Xenon (a hotel where Nemean games participants once stayed), but the Basilica was also constructed largely of materials pillaged from the 4th century B.C. Temple of Zeus. The Corinthian columns that once graced the interior of the Temple of Zeus for example, were used for constructing the interior of the Basilica.
Excavation of the Basilica began in the 1920’s and then resumed in the 1960’s and 1980’s. Unfortunately, although the excavation of the Basilica provided scholars with an understanding of the 5th-6th century A.D. architecture and religious life, as well as visual access to the ancient Xenon, it also contributed to the deterioration of the Basilica’s foundation. The excavations had exposed the Basilica to the elements, and by early 2000 the Basilica foundation began to display serious signs of deterioration due to the disintegration of the mortar and the collapse of masonry. In keeping with its primary mission, the conservation and presentation of archaeological monuments, the Nemea Center, first under Professor Steve Miller and then under Director Kim Shelton took immediate action to conserve the Basilica. Professor Miller immediately on seeing the deterioration of the foundation, began to backfill the central hall of the Basilica with clean earth and to raise the soil level on the exterior as much as possible without obscuring the surrounding earlier remains. Professor Shelton, as a supplement to the proposal of conservation submitted to the Greek Ministry of Culture (still outstanding), commissioned from Ms. Ioanna Dogani and Ms. Amerimni Galanou, of LITHOU SYNTIRISIS, Lithics Conservation & Conservation Resources (Greece), to conduct a study on the ancient mortar used in the foundation in order to recognize its components and create a substance to be used today in harmony with the ancient materials.
While the deterioration of the Basilica’s foundation has been temporarily abated, it is only with continual careful and deliberate conservation measures that will ensure the future possibility of research and visible understanding of the entire site’s complex and long history. Specifically, the conservation of the Basilica will continue to provide scholars with research of the Early Christian sanctuary at Nemea and its relationship to the earlier pagan sanctuary of Zeus and visual access to the Xenon. Although some of the conservation work is performed, under the direction of the Nemea Center’s Director, by the students participating in the archaeological field schools, as with all other Nemea Center projects, conservation of the Basilica is dependent on private donations.