In the second century AD, Pausanias visited the ruined and melancholy region of Nemea and noted: "it is worth seeing the Temple of Nemean Zeus, even if the roof has collapsed and the cult statue is missing".
The Temple of Nemean Zeus was built around 330 B.C. as a part of the re-establishment of the Games at Nemea.
The Temple was characteristic of late Classical and early Hellenistic architecture, combining three architectural styles. Doric was used on the exterior colonnade and in the porch. Ionic was superimposed on Corinthian on the interior. A unique aspect of the structure is the sunken crypt at the back of the cella (inner chamber), the use of which is still not known for certain. The most likely explanation is that it was a local oracle.
Underneath the Temple of Zeus was an earlier temple, built in the first quarter of the 6th century BC and destroyed before the end of the 5th century BC. Of the older temple, only the merest ruins remain, although during excavations a number of building blocks and roof tiles have been discovered. Although many details are missing, that Early Temple was clearly smaller and simpler than the extant structure. It did not have an exterior colonnade, and the west end of the roof was hipped; the east end had figures painted on the flat surface of the pediment.
During the Early Christian era, thirty-three of the thirty-six Doric columns were torn down in order to retrieve material used in the building of a Christian Basilica a short distance south of the ruins of the Temple. The drums of those columns were not of use to the Basilica builders and were left behind as they fell. The radial pattern in which the fallen columns were found, spread out around the temple, shows that they were destroyed not by natural causes such as an earthquake, in which case all the column drums would have fallen in the same direction, but by human intervention. The columns were cut down like trees, felled so that both the drums and the materials beneath them could be reused in the church.
Only one of the columns of the peristyle remained standing, while the other two that had survived in their original positions framed the entrance to the porch.