- Location: Campania Region, Italy
- Attraction Type: Historic City
- Significance: Greek Ruins, Tombs, Frescoes, Architecture, Heritage
- Best Time to Visit: July — August.
- How to Reach: If you are coming down by car from the north, take the A3 motorway and exit at Battipaglia. Then follow SS 18 in the direction of Paestum for 20 km. Coming from the south, take the A3 motorway and exit at Eboli. Paestum is 16 km away. The best way to come is to take a train. Intercity and Eurostar trains reach Salerno Railway Station every day. Reach Paestum from Salerno, which is only 30 km away.
- Nearest Airport: Naples International Airport
The solitude here matches the mysticism of the ruins. Within the nearly silent recesses of the old Doric ruins, you can hear the muted footfalls of a long-forgotten history. Paestum, a tourist destination that is still thankfully saved from the bane of being overcrowded, is one of the most memorable destinations in south Italy. What was once a thriving town, inhabited by Greeks, Romans, Lucanians and early Christians, is now a reclusive village with some of the most comprehensive, complete and impressive ruins from the Greek and Roman periods.
History of Paestum
The not much-written document exists on the earliest history of Paestum, and archaeology is usually the only indicator. As per most conclusions, the town was built around 7th century BC by Greeks who traveled from Sybaris and worshipped Poseidon. Poseidonia was the earliest name of the city, although it did not have a harbor, and farming was the most important activity.
Poseidon was one of those few places where the Greek and the Phoenician cultures came in close contact with each other. The figurines, statues and sacrificial structures found in this region clearly attest to the close interaction between these two cultural streams. The Lucanians settled in the city and named it Paestum.
Roman settlement steadily increased in the town from the third BC century onwards. This was the time, when the Lucanian city of Paestum However, just as the city was increasing in strength, and the little river was providing an excellent channel to approach the harbor, attracting money and people — disaster was striking silently. Aggressive deforestation to accommodate the ever-growing population was creating a great amount of barren land. Once the river started to flood the barren land, marshlands ensued, making it an ideal habitation for mosquitoes. Malaria was on the rise, took the lives of thousands, and nobody had a clue of how to deal with it, except to desert the place.
The city that developed gradually was deserted all of a sudden. Quietly, it sunk into oblivion, and nobody knew a trace about Paestum till the place was suddenly rediscovered in the 19th century. Excavation works unearthed long-buried temples, unfolding like a picture book in front of modern eyes: temples, courts, amphitheaters, tombs. Now, the place is visited by many visitors every year. Although it is not as popular as Pompeii, which lies further south, Paestum is an absolute treat for lovers of art, history, architecture, and indeed all culturally oriented visitors.
Things to see in Paestum
There are three main temples that are extant in Paestum. They are all unique and present various stages in the development of Greek architecture.
The Basilica: Although it is easy to be misguided by the name, what is thought to be the basilica is, in fact, a 6th century BC temple devoted to Hera, sister, and consort to Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods. Although the visitors are allowed a close look, entry inside the temple is prohibited. An altar lies at some distance outside the main temple, probably meant for sacrificial offerings.
The Second Temple of Hera: This temple was originally thought to belong to the god Poseidon or Neptune, and is still often referred to as the temple of Poseidon. This is another great example of Doric architecture. It is the only complete specimen of early Doric temple architecture that is extant. There are two altars in this temple, leading many scholars to infer that the temple was originally meant for Zeus and Hera, the twin godheads of classical Greece.
The Temple of Athena: This temple is built in the transitional style, incorporating elements of Ionic and Doric architecture. Originally thought to be devoted to the divinity of Ceres, it is now established that this was in fact devoted to Athena. The presence of tombs on the floor of the temple probably hints to the fact that it was at some point used as a Christian church.
Ekklesiasterion: This small structure is the Greek construction of legislation for the election of the judges. The building was ignored for much of the Roman period when it was left buried under a mound. The Romans built a structure for the same purpose in a nearby spot, usually referred to as the ‘Forum’.
The Amphitheater: This is located towards the northwest of the Roman forum. There is nothing different in this construction than other Roman buildings of the same type, although it is much smaller in size and dimension.
Archaeological Museum of Paestum: This museum is located close to the Greek temple sites. It has an impressive collection of classical art dating from various periods of Paestum’s history.
Byzantine Church: This beautiful Greek temple, also known as the Basilica Paleoristiana provides an interesting contrast to the classical architectures that are distributed all over the city. It belongs to the 5th century AD, at a time when Christianity was steadily on the rise during the city’s history.
The Tombs of Paestum
The tombs of Paestum are one of the most enigmatic and interesting structures of the city. Most of them, like all Greek necropolises, are located outside the main city walls. All of these small houses have paintings and frescoes done on the wall. Of all the tomb paintings, the most famous is the one with the painting of the solitary ‘Tuffatore” or ‘diver’. The picture of the diver is significant not only because of its strange and mysterious beauty, but because it appears to be the first Greek tomb painting with human representation. Other paintings include those of the ‘symposium’ — the popular theme from Greek vase paintings.
For the lovers of activity, Paestum also provides a great opportunity for summer guests other than heritage tourism. There are many campgrounds, long and beautiful beaches lined with eucalyptus and lots of open-air events that are held in the areas around the temples.
Accommodation in Paestum
Paestum is thankfully not an overcrowded destination. Visitors who come here are usually ones who are genuinely interested in art and culture. However, there are quite a few luxury and economy hotels in Paestum. Some of the most popular hotels are Hotel Villa Rita, Best Western Hotel Esplanade and Hotel Residence Casala.