Paestum is an ancient Greco-Roman city in the Campania region of southern Italy. Near sandy beaches in a region known for its delicious mozzarella di bufula, Paestum includes three well-preserved Doric Greek temples, ruins of ancient houses and a museum of artifacts. As an extra bonus, the site is off the beaten tourist path and is often deserted.
History of the Paestum Archaeological Site
Paestum, or Poseidonia as it was originally known, was founded by Greeks from Sybaris in the 6th century BC. The Greeks built three great temples - the first dedicated to Hera and two more of uncertain dedications - between about 550 and 450 BC.
The city was colonized by the Romans in 273 BC, who Latinized its name to Paestum and added the usual Roman infrastructure of roads, forum and theaters. Christians moved in around the 5th century AD, converting at least one temple into a church and building a new church nearby.
By the 9th century AD, the land had become swampy and a combination of malaria and Saracen raids had decimated the population. The city and its great temples were abandoned and gradually overtaken by the forest, where it remained hidden until its discovery in the 18th century during the building of a road.
What to See at the Paestum Archaeological Site
Paestum is home to three magnificent Doric temples, which are thought to be dedicated to the city's namesake Poseidon (known to the Romans as Neptune), Hera and Ceres. The temples of Neptune and Hera are located next to each other at the southern end of the site, while the smaller Temple of Ceres is at the northern end. You can walk up close to the temples, but they are roped off to prevent interior access.
The Temple of Hera is the oldest of the three temples, built about 550 BC. It is sometimes called the Basilica, based on an error of earlier archaeologists in thinking it was a Roman public building. Unlike the other temples, the dedication of this one is certain, thanks to inscriptions to Hera on the temple. An open-air altar was unearthed in front of the temple, where the faithful could attend rites and sacrifices without entering the cella (the holiest area accessed by priests).
The Temple of Neptune (or Apollo or Hera II) next door dates from 450 BC and is the most complete of the three - everything remains intact except the roof and parts of the inner walls. It has double rows of columns. On the east side are remains of two altars, one large and one smaller. The smaller one was added by the Romans when they cut through the larger altar to build a road to the forum. Statues around the larger altar may indicate that Apollo was patron of the temple. Another possible dedication is Hera, like the temple next to it.
The Temple of Ceres (or Athena) was built in c.500 BC in a transitional style between Ionic and early Doric. It was later used as a Christian church, as indicated by three Christian tombs discovered in the floor. (There was also a new Christian church built in Paestum in the 5th century, which still stands today.)
The middle of the site consists of the Roman forum, with extensive foundations of various public and private buildings.
Northwest of the forum is a small Roman amphitheater, of which only the southern half is visible. In 1930, a road was built across the site, burying the northern half. It is said by local inhabitants that the civil engineer responsible was tried, convicted and received a prison sentence for what was described as wanton destruction of a historic site.
Quick Facts on the Paestum Archaeological Site
|Names:||Paestum Archaeological Site|
|Dedication:||Neptune, Hera, Ceres|
|Dates:||c. 600 BCE-800 CE|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||40.421400° N, 15.005500° E|
|Hours:||Daily 9am-one hour before sunset|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Paestum Archaeological Site|
- Personal visit (April 9, 2008).
- Rough Guide to Italy, 7th edition (2005), 918.
- Barbara Ann Kipfer, "Paestum." Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology (2000).
- Paestum - Wikipedia
- Russell Chamberlin, "Rediscovering Paestum." The Spectator, October 25, 2003.
- Paestum - In Italy
Map of the Paestum Archaeological Site
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Paestum Archaeological Site. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.