The Entrance Tunnel
Although excavation of the Ancient Nemea site started around 1776 it was not until the 1800’s that there is mention of the early Hellenistic Stadium. Extensive excavation of the Stadium did not begin until 1974 under the aegis of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) and under the leadership of Professor Stephen Miller. Located 400 meters southeast of the Temple of Zeus, the Stadium Tunnel or the Krypte Eisodos, dates back to approximately 320 BC. This limestone barrel vaulted tunnel, with its arched opening, measures 2.5 m wide by 36.35 m long. Access to the tunnel is from the Apodyterion (locker room), the room in which the athletes would undress and prepare themselves for the competitions. The tunnel served not only as the athletes’ dramatic entrance to the Stadium but as a protective barrier from the crowds who might jeer, strike out at them or distract them as they made their way to the Stadium. The tunnel also provides an interesting detail, that of the ancient graffiti that covers the tunnel walls, which provides scholars with names of some of the athletes, as well as small insights into the athletes’ thoughts as they sprint through the tunnel to the stadium to participate in the games.
Like many other structures of antiquity, the tunnel has deteriorated over time. As part of the on-going mission to conserve the Nemea monuments, the Nemea Center has started preliminary planning and fundraising for the structural and restoration study of the tunnel, immediately necessary to abate the decay and possible collapse of this extremely important and unique monument. The Center has requested and endorsed a preliminary study of the structural issues and necessary conservation protocol be conducted by engineer Dr. Kostas Zambas in preparation for submission of a proposal to the Ministry of Culture and its Central Archaeological Council. This vital conservation work will be difficult and costly, but imperative to maintain the unequalled experience of following “in the footsteps of the ancients”, and as is the case with the majority of the reconstruction of the Nemea monuments, only possible through private donations.