Revering the Greek Temples of Paestum

Posted in Europe | April 15, 2010 | 0 Comments

Located close to the sandy beaches, Paestum is the home of three intact Doric Greek temples, relics of old homes, and a museum of art work. Paestum is an old Greco-Roman city in southern Italy famous for its tasty mozzarella di bufula. The other draw is that the site is off the packed tourist route, which ensures fewer crowds.

Discovered in the 6th century B.C., Paestum, also called Poseidonia was discovered by Greeks who erected three great temples, one devoted to Hera and other two unknown dating back between 550 and 450 B.C. Later, it was inhabited by the Romans in 273 B.C contributing to road and theaters. and then Christians in 5th century AD who transformed a temple into a church. It was only in the 18th century that the abandoned city and the temples were found.

My Visit

The three outstanding temples in Paestum are believed to be devoted to the city’s Poseidon called Neptune by the Romans, Hera, and Ceres. Located at the southern tip, the two temples of Neptune and Hera are adjacent to each other, while the Temple of Ceres is seen at the northern tip. As the temples do not permit for an inner visit, you can only go to the maximum nearest point to the temples to explore them.

The first one I explore was the most ancient one called the Temple of Hera built around 550 B.C. Mistakenly, it was named the Basilica and so even called today sometimes due to an earlier illusion of the Roman local edifice. This is because in Roman times, a basilica refers to civil building rather than a religious centre. As compared to the other two temples, the loyalty of this temple was clearly identified due to the inscriptions on its walls about Hera. In its front, an open-air altar was found that marked the place where the followers attended the rituals and sacrifices eliminating the need to occupy the cella that is the sacred area for priests.

Besides the Temple of Hera is the Temple of Neptune (Apollo or Hera II) of 450 B.C. that is the complete one among the three temples leaving the roof and areas of the inner walls. Holding twin rows of columns, the relics of temple’s two altars, one big and small, are seen on the east. Out of the two, the smaller altar was the effort of the Romans made from the larger altar whose cutting was inevitable to form a route to the Roman Forum. The statues found surrounding the larger altar tell that the temple is dedicated to Apollo, while another possibility is thought to be of the Hera.

The Temple of Ceres (Athena) belongs to the time of 500 B.C. exhibiting some Ionic and early Doric styles, which was mistakenly understood to be dedicated to Ceres. However, it was then converted as a Christian church whose evidence is the three Christian tombs seen in the floor. You can also see a new Christian church of the 5th century. In the center of the site, you can visit the grand Roman Forum holding an array of great public and private buildings.

A small Roman amphitheater stands to the northwest of the forum of whose only southern half is evident today. This is because its northern area was burned to build a road in 1930. According to the local legend, the civil engineer who did so was held guilty and was imprisoned for a reckless damage of a historic monument.

The site is opened for visit between morning 9 to 1 hour before sunset and has an entrance fee of €4 for site or museum and €6.50 for both. The journey would take 1 hour from Salerno and 15 min from Agropoli.

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