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Ancient Olympic Stadium Threatened by Budget Cuts in Greece

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The ancient Olympic stadium of Nemea is under threat of closure as a result of steep budget cuts in the country as Greece enters its sixth consecutive year of recession.

The Nemean Games were founded in 573 BC and were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, including Delphi, Isthmia and Olympia.  It was at one of these four sites that, for a brief period each year, wars and hostilities were suspended by a sacred truce, and all Greeks gathered in recognition of their common humanity.

The site of the Nemean stadium was excavated from beneath a highway and vineyard in 1974 under the direction of Stephen Miller, professor emeritus of classical archaeology at the University of California. The site includes a temple dedicated to Zeus, ruins of a locker room, a tunnel (marked with the graffiti of ancient athletes) leading into the stadium, and the stadium itself.

What is most unique about Nemea is that friendly games still take place in the stadium every four years in a tradition that began in 1996. In a statement from the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, it is said: "It is our belief that the modern Olympic Games, despite their obvious success in many respects, have become increasingly removed from the average person. Our goal is the participation, on the sacred ancient earth of Greece, of anyone and everyone, in games that will revive the spirit of the Olympics. We will achieve this by reliving authentic ancient athletic customs in the ancient stadium of Nemea."

However, the games and the site itself are now in danger of closing due to ongoing staff cuts and failure by authorities to find alternative sources of funding.  Seven of the site’s 10-member staff at Nemea have not have their contracts renewed. If they lose their final challenge in court next month, Miller said, the site will close.

“The treasure of Greece is its antiquities and the young archaeologists trained to look after those antiquities. Instead of making the investments that would have yielded archaeology an income producing venture, it’s always been shoved off to the side,” Miller said. “There’s no hotel here, no restaurant, no shop.”

Many believe that one of Greece’s greatest hopes for its much-needed growth is its tourism, and that’s where funding some of its important treasures could play a major role.

By April Holloway

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