The One with Paestum, Italy

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

After driving along the beautiful Amalfi Coast we had one more destination: Paestum. We were really hungry for lunch and about 20 minutes before getting there we found a huge modern mall complex and a McDonald's with clean bathrooms. Such a blessing! We were refreshed, recharged, and ready to rock and roll.
Paestum: this site has one of the best collections of Greek temples anywhere - and certainly the most accessible to Western Europe. Serenely situated, Paestum is surrounded by fields and wild-flowers. The town was founded as Poseidonia by Greeks in the sixth century B.C. and become a key stop on an important trade route. In the fifth century B.C. the Lucanians, a barbarous inland tribe, conquered Poseidonia, changed its name to Paistom, and tried to adopt the cultured ways of the Greeks. The Romans who took over in the third century B.C. gave Paestum the name it bears today. The final conquerers of Paestum, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, kept the site wonderfully deserted for nearly a thousand years. Rediscovered in the 18th century, Paestum today offers the only well-preserved Greek ruins north of Sicily.
An overview of the archaeological site: three temples, a memorial tomb, forum, curia, amphitheater, and more.

Our first glimpse of the temples!
These are the temples of Neptune and Hera, dating from 450 B.C. and 550 B.C., respectively. All three of the temples here are in the Doric style: three stairs, columns without a base, shafts that narrow at the top to a simple capital of a round then a square block. While there were no carved reliefs, colorful frescoes once decorated the pediments.
The third of the remaining three temples is the Temple of Ceres. All three of these have inaccurate names coined by 19th century archaeologists who based their discoveries on wishful thinking. Those 1800s archaeologists wanted this temple to be devoted to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. However, all the little votive statues found later when modern archaeologists dug here depicted Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. The temple dates from 500 B.C. made from locally quarried limestone blocks.
The Ekklesiasterios, which looks like a sunken circular theater, was a meeting place where the Greeks would get together to discuss things and vote.
The Greek city that was once here had a population of about 13,000 and was a seaport (the ocean is now about a mile away). Only about a fifth of the site has been excavated.
These temples have stood for about 2,500 years! Absolutely incredible.
The Temple of Neptune employs the Greek architectural trick where the base line is curved up just a tad, to overcome the illusion of sagging. The Athenians built their Parthenon, with a similar bowed up base line, just 30 years after this was constructed. Many think that this temple could have been their inspiration.
Interesting fact: In 1943 Allied paratroopers dropped in near here during the famous "Landing of Salerno." The temple of Hera served as an Allied military tent hospital. From here the Allies pushed back the Nazis, marching to Naples, Cassino, and finally to Rome.
The oldest of the three temples is the Temple of Hera. In fact, it is one of the oldest Greek temples still standing anywhere. This one looks a little over-built with its columns and capitals closer together than necessary, as if the builders lacked the confidence in their ability to span the distance between supports. You can see the progression between this temple in the Arcahic Doric style to the Temple of Neptune in the Classic Doric style.
Despite the fact that it was raining cats and dogs, we thought this was so cool to see! We've seen Roman ruins throughout Europe, but this was our first experience with substantial Greek ruins. 

And that concludes our trip to southern Italy!
Next round of recaps: southern Spain!


  1. So amazing! Love the circular theater! So cool!!

  2. This was probably my favorite part of the day!

  3. Your photos are just splendid! you capture the beauty of the sites. Thank you!

  4. Awesome! I really love seeing where you visit. My bucket-list of travel keeps growing! :)


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