Greek civilization developed for a period of over 800 years, from the archaic age around the year 1000 BC until the year 146 BC, when Greece passed under Roman rule. This is a rather long period of time during which indelible traces of their genius have been left in the political, artistic and literary fields. Men like Pericles, Homer or Sophocles are extremely current characters and modern democracies may be considered the successors of the Greek; authors such as Homer or Sophocles are still studied in schools and successfully represented in theaters.
Greek civilization has left tangible signs of its artistic genius, above all thanks to the magnificent temples many of which are present in Sicily. In this blog I have already talked about temples of Segesta and Selinunte and about the splendid Valley of the Temples of Agrigento, unmistakable signs of magnificence.
And it was no surprise for me to find that even far from Sicily there are equally beautiful and majestic Greek temples. It is Paestum, the ancient city of Poseidonia, whose perfectly preserved remains leave the visitor enchanted by their splendor and grandeur.
Paestum is located at Capaccio, 30 km south of Salerno, in a landscape of great beauty. It is visited every year by more than 400 thousand people and is particularly striking for its three temples, located on this esplanade in rapid sequence.
Once inside, you can immediately admire, on your right, the Temple of Athena or Ceres (photo 1), the smallest of the three present in the site, dating from around 500 BC.
It is characterized by its harmonious shapes and its perfect proportions, typical of Greek temples, with a facade with an even number of columns, in this case 6, and a double number of columns on the lateral part plus one (in this case, 13). The element that makes this temple very particular is the presence of the high pediment on the facade.
Traditionally, the temple had been attributed to Ceres but, following the discovery of some terracotta statuettes depicting Athena, this latter attribution is considered more probable today. In addition, the temple stands on the highest part of the town, where temples in honor of Athena were traditionally erected in Greek cities.
Continuing south, you reach the second great temple of the archaeological site, dedicated to Neptune or Poseidon (photos 2 and 3), the divinity that gives the town its name. The temple, built in the fifth century BC, is in perfect condition and is considered among the best examples of Doric architecture. It is elevated on a three steps crepidoma and with a 6×14 Doric colonnade. The even number of columns on the sides, fourteen instead of the canonical thirteen, represents an anomaly with respect to the custom present in Greek temples.
Next to it, the third temple, dedicated to Hera (photo 4).
Better known as Basilica, the temple was built around the fifth century B.C. and was dedicated to Hera, bride of Zeus and main deity of Poseidonia. The temple is really large and has a 9×18 colonnade (the Parthenon in Athens, for example, has an 8X17 colonnade). Also in this case the odd number of columns in the facade represents a peculiarity of this temple.
Another particularity of the temple is the possibility of visiting it also inside (photo 5), through a path created in 2016 consisting of wooden platforms that allow excellent usability, thanks also to the removal of architectural barriers. In this way it is possible to better admire the internal room, divided by a row of central columns.
At the end, you cannot miss the annexed Archaeological Museum that preserves wonderful masterpieces.
The most valuable piece of the collection is certainly the “Tomb of the Diver“, of great historical and artistic value. It is the only known testimony of large Greek painting, made with the fresco technique. The name originates from representation that appears on the covering, a naked young man who dives into a stretch of water, a metaphorical image of the passage from life to death (photo 6).
The longer walls of the tomb are mostly convivial scenes, with garlanded men, lying on tricliniums in symposial poses (photo 7).
Finally, you can see the rich collection of vases, amphorae and containers, used to collect food, perfumed oils and ointments, richly decorated with floral depictions or scenes with divinities (photos 8 and 9).
The official site of the archaeological site can be found here where prices and visiting times are indicated. The family plan is very convenient and allows significant savings. A visit to the Museum is also highly recommended (don’t just focus on the Temples).
If you are at Paestum in the summer, it is possible to combine the visit of the archaeological park and the Museum with a a trip on the beach, less than 10 minutes away by car. If you want, you can reach Agropoli, a 20-minute drive away.