Temple of Poseidon

Paestum is the ruin of an ancient Greek city, albeit situated on Italian soil. The city was founded as Poseidonia in the seventh century BC by colonists from the Greek city of Sybaris.

Paestum boasts one of the best preserved Greek temples remaining in the world. The Tempio di Poseidon (Temple of Poseidon), also called the Tempio di Nettuno (Temple of Neptune) was constructed around 450 B.C. The remaining ruin features 38 Doric columns supporting an impressive almost intact entablature.

The Basilica (foreground)

Other Greek ruins on the site include the misnamed Basilica, actually a temple to Hera, the Tempio di Cerere (Temple of Ceres), and the Tempio di Pace (Temple of Peace).

The city was taken over in 273 B.C. by the Romans, who renamed it Paestum. They added the Forum and an amphitheater. The city eventually was abandoned and fell into ruins, supposedly because of malaria borne by mosquitos infesting the nearby saltwater marshes. It was rediscovered and excavated beginning in the middle of the 18th century.

Much of the archaeological treasure taken from the temples and scores of Greek graves in the area is on display in the Museo Nazionale (National Museum) located on the site.

The ruins are scattered over a large site, with the Basilica and Temple of Poseidon at one end and the Temple of Ceres at the other. In the middle are ruins of more mundane buildings dating from various periods.

The site is quite large, with gravel paths through the excavated areas and grasses and wildflowers and a few olive trees covering the rest. There are low iron railings to separate tourists from the principal ruins. One is not permitted to actually enter the main buildings. Some archaeological work is still underway. When we visited (in late May), there were relatively few visitors. Most of those were Italian schoolchildren on a field trip.

Tempio di Cerere (Temple of Ceres)

Paestum is located on the Mediterranean coast 42 kilometers (26 miles) southeast of Salerno, 100 kilometers (62 miles) southeast of Naples. It is easily reached from Salerno by car. The quickest route is to take the A3/E45 to Battipaglia, then follow the S18 til you reach the turn-off for Paestum. If you have more time (and the patience) there is an interesting coast road from Salerno that passes the Port of Salerno and Vietri Sul Mare and hugs the coast to Paestum. Traffic can be congested and slow, however, due in part to the motor homes and camper trailers headed to the beach-side campgrounds that dot the route. If you are traveling by train, the Stazione (railway station) di Paestum is only 800 yards from the site.


Copyright 2003 Harry B. Rowe