Paestum was founded 600 B.C. - some years after Agropoli - by Greeks from Sybaris, which was at that time an important Greek city in Calabria +) .
Paestum was established about 9 kms to the south of the river Sele on a plateau of travertine, which also provided the building material for the town walls and the temples. The outlines of this plateau correspond to the course of the town walls. The Sele formed a natural border to the area situated in the north, which was at that time controlled by the Etruscans.
The Greek settlers called the city Poseidonia in honor of the Greek sea God Poseidon. In spite of the name, Poseidonia probably did not have an important harbour. It was, at that time, separated from the sea by a shallow fresh water lagoon and could be reached only by small ships. Agropoli, which was situated only 6 kms to the south, was certainly a better choice for a harbour. The important role of Poseidonia was due to its central place in a very fertile plain +) . Not Poseidon but Hera, the goddess of fertility, became the predominant divinity of Poseidonia.
At the end of the 5th century B.C. Poseidonia passed over to the Lucanians (who were a local branch of the italic Samnites tribe in this area). Under the Lucanians, Poseidonia was called Paistom +) . In 273 B.C. the Romans took possession of the city. They renamed it to Paestum and Latin became the official language. A lot of new Roman buildings changed the townscape into Roman. In particular, a Roman forum replaced the Greek agora.
In the 4th century A.D., Paestum began to decline and shrink. Progressive deforestation led to increasing growth of the marshes, mainly caused by the waters of the river Salso, which passed the southern town walls. These were optimum conditions for the spread of malaria. The northern part of Paestum around the temple of Athena became the center of the diminished town. This area was situated far from the Salso in an elevated position.
In the 5th century, the small palaeochristian church (Basilica, near the museum) was built. The temple of Athena was probably used as a Christian church as well, because the graves, which were found inside the temple, could only be of Christian origin.
As a result of the numerous attacks of the Saracenes and because it had become a malarious district, the last inhabitants left Paestum in the 9th century. They established a new settlement, Capaccio (Caput Aquae), on Mount Calpazio above Capo di Fiume. In the 12th century, the church of the Madonna del Granato +) was constructed here. Because it participated in a conspiracy, this settlement ("Capaccio vecchio") was destroyed in the year 1246 by Frederic II.
Surrounded and buried by swamps caused by the river Sele, the city remained hidden and forgotten for about 900 years. Due to new road constructions in 1748, the well preserved temples were rediscovered and excavated.
The oldest and most important sanctuary of the entire region was the Heraion +) established about 570 B.C. It was not before the 20th century that its fragmentary ruins were discovered 9 km north of Paestum in the proximity of the Sele delta. There are some hints which attribute its earliest establishment to Jason and the Argonauts.
Only a few years later (about 550 B.C.), the oldest of the three temples of Paestum was built, which was also dedicated to the Greek goddess of fertility Hera (the sister and wife of Zeus). Due to an early mistake it is known today as the "Basilica" , (2) , (3) .
The smallest of the three temples, called the Ceres temple , (2) was dedicated to the goddess Athene and was built about 500 B.C.
The Poseidon temple, (2) (or Neptune temple) is from about 450 B.C. (about the same time the Parthenon in Athens was built). This temple is probably the best preserved Doric temple in the world.
The Neptune temple and Basilica are standing directly next to each other thus offering a quite impressive panorama.
The small Ekklesiasterion (legislation, election of the judge) was preserved from the Greek period of Paestum because the Romans left it under a mound. The Romans established nearby a larger building (comitium) for similar purposes and proceedings.
The small amphitheatre, (2) , which is only half excavated, is like nearly all the other buildings (respectively their foundation relics) of Roman origin (1st century B.C.).
Further excavations around the temples during the last decades uncovered the outlines of the old city inside the town walls. The Roman forum , (2) is situated on the southern part of the more expanded Greek agora.
For some buildingfoundations, there are still different interpretations for their original function. The current interpretation becomes difficult because the use of the buildings often mutated with the changes from Greek to Lucanian and finally to Roman inhabitants. This may be illustrated by the following examples: The roof, which can be seen in the following photo, belongs to an underground sanctuary (sacellum , hypogaeum), which is enclosed by an additional wall. From its form, it can be either a grave or a heroon (an empty grave), as it was customary at that time - e.g. in honour of the founder of the city. In fact, this building is from the 6th century B.C.
In another complex, which is interpreted as a gymnasium with swimming pool, some archaeologists assume that the strange stone construction in the pool was a podium for the swimming matches. Others assume that the original gynnasium was transformed after the 3rd century B.C. to a sanctuary of the goddess Fortuna Virilis, at which the stone construction served solemn fertility rites.
The town wall with its 4 gates is 4750 m long. It was built by the Greeks and later fortified by Lucanians and Romans. (As you see, it is very possible to take a railroad trip to Paestum).
Many Lucanian graves were found close to the city (the necropolies always lay outside the walls). These graves formed "small houses". Walls and roofs used to be decorated with skilful frescos. The most famous of these graves is the grave of the "Tuffatore" (diver) , (2) , which still comes from the Greek (about 480 B.C.). The scene represented on the roof slab symbolizes an almost harmonious transition from life to death. These and further finds, also of the older Heraion, (2), (3) at the Sele delta, are shown in the national museum at the excavation grounds.
The excavations and restoration measures still continue today.
Of course, the temples of Paestum are a first-rate tourist attraction. Also Germany's most famous poet, Goethe, visited them in March 1787, just three decades after they were rediscovered, and was strongly impressed by them. Besides the temples, Paestum has a lot to offer also for less culturally-inspired summer guests. There are many 4-star luxury hotels and numerous campgrounds along the long beaches with pine and eucalyptus groves. During high season, there are many high quality open-air events close to the temples.
Despite the many high rated hotels, Paestum has not become a pretentious tourist resort. I would not be in favour of too much of that, but would approve of a little bit more sophisticated planning. In some places, you may even miss a proper sidewalk. If you drive straight from the excavation area to the sea, you arrive at this road leading to the beach with fast food restaurants, a play center for children and small simple shops. This is certainly not a compensation for the missing seaside promenade, which you might expect. Some kind of compensation may offer the via Magna Graecia along the illuminated temples, which in the evening induce a really inspiring atmosphere.
Skip footnotes: Paestum - Links
Origin of Magna Graecia and the Foundation of Paestum
The first Greek settlements in South Italy served the expansion of trade relations. Around 760, Greeks from the island of Euböa settled on Pithekoussai (that was the Greek name for the island of Ischia), where they manufactured metal objects and jewelry with the ore of the island of Elba. Around 740 B.C., the first settlement on the mainland emerged with Cuma (a little north of Ischia). The main cause for the comprehensive migration movements to South Italy and Sicily lay in famines resulting from the increasing population. Around 730 to 700, B.C., Naxos (Giardini Naxos), Catana (Catania), Syrakus and Zankle (Messina) became established on Sicily, as well as Rhegion (Reggio Calabria) on the mainland opposite.
At the same time, Greeks from Akaia of the northern Peloponnes founded the cities Sybaris and Kroton at the Ionic Sea ("in the curvature between toe-cap and heel"). It is certain that Paestum was founded by Sybarites over hundred years later around 600 B.C. There are different theories about the motives of these Sybarites: One suggests that the Sybarites were looking for a trade route (maybe to the Etruscans, whose territory reached at that time to the north of the river Sele) avoiding the dangerous sea route over the street of Messina. Another posits that a Doric minority found a new homeland in this fruitful plain after they were driven out by the Achaean majority of the inhabitants of Sybaris.
From Greek to Samnite Rule
In the beginning of the Greek intrusions the area to the north of the Sele was Etruscan territory. In two battles near Cuma (524 and 474 B.C.), the Greeks could finally enforce their claim to domination of these territories.
At the same time, however, Italic tribes (Samnites) migrated from Central Italy to South Italy. They concentrated at first on the inland mountain regions. As a result, it took many decades before they came into military conflicts with the Greeks. At the end of the 5th century B.C., the Samnites conquered Cuma and gained Naples. At this time also Poseidonia came under the rule of the Lucanians, a local tribe of the Samnites. Today, the name of the city, "Vallo della Lucania", is a reminder of this period. In the following years, there was a peaceful melting of the Italic and Greek peoples (not only in Paistom).
Capo di Fiume
The importance of Paestum lay to some extent in the fertility of the surrounding area, where one can harvest three times a year. Paestum always got plentiful water from Capo di Fiume, once considered to be an independent water source but today also presumed to be an underground branch of the Calore river. In this (still hypothetical) case, one part of the river enters the mountain near Castelcivita and another part flows over a lovely valley into the Sele. This means that there must be a natural tunnel across the mountain, through which the water of the Calore flows and which is at least three kilometres long.
Regardless of the source, the Greeks valued this high water yield. Remnants of a small temple were found at this place. Further, finds in the water indicate that this temple was dedicated to Persephone, a daughter of Demeter, who, being herself a sister of Zeus and of Hera, was a goddess of soil fertility. The Romans called this goddess Ceres. Persephone was kidnapped by Hades into the underworld but was later allowed to return back to daylight for the predominant part of the year.
For enhanced security, at least a part of the town walls of Paestum was supplemented by a ditch filled with water coming from Capo di Fiume.
Today this place is a popular trip goal for the whole family with picnic meadow and a restaurant.
In the place, where the water comes out, one can observe an interesting phenomenon: Numerous bubbles rise to the water surface.
Madonna del Granato
In the Heraion a statue of Hera was found with a pomegranate, a symbol of fertility, in her hand. It is called Hera Argiva or Hera of Argo. In this context Argo is the name of a Greek city, which promoted the Hera Cult.
Another statue displays Hera with an infant in her left hand and a pomegranate in her right. The same presentation can be found with the statue of Madonna del Granato in the Santuario of Madonna del Granato. The adaptation of the Hera cult probably facilitated the Christianizing of the region at that time.
Heraion and the Hera Cult
The establishment of the Heraion at the Sele was attributed to Jason from the legend of the Argonauts by historians such as Strabo and Plinius. However, this is not entirely credible since the legendary journey of the Argo, (the name of the ship used by the Argonauts) never led into this region. Serious estimations for the possible time of this voyage yield a time before 1400 B.C. On the other hand, Jason had some good reasons according to the legend to be grateful to Hera.
Therefore, the traditional name Hera Argiva or Hera of Argo is probably not due to the name of Jason’s ship. It seems to be more likely that the addition of "Argo" traces back to the Greek city Argo/Argos, which promoted the Hera cult. Argo lay on the Peloponnes not very far from the Achaean origin of the founders of Sybaris and Paestum respectively. Moreover, in the other Achaean establishment, Kroton, a Hera sanctuary was constructed as well. Finally, the fruitful zone around Paestum is an obvious motive for the choice of Hera as preferred divinity.
In conclusion, the mixture of legends and legendary figures with the history of this region cannot be easily untangled. Many places are connected with names from the world of the Greek myths and legends: Herculaneum, Parthenope (as forerunner of Naples), Punta Licosa, Palinuro, Sorrento.
The Heraion presumably did not withstand some earthquakes. Most of its stones vanished because they were used for other buildings. In the Middle Ages they were even used for the fabrication of cement. Today there is a new museum, (2) not far from the remnants, (2), (3) of the original Heraion with some finds and reconstructions.
Many thanks to Susan Stowe (Arlington, Virginia, U.S.) for the excellent revision and correction of the preceding English text.
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Indirizzi Addresses Adressen
Azienda Autonoma Cura, Soggiorno e Turismo
84063 PAESTUM, Via Magna Grecia 151
Tel. 0039-0828811016, Fax 0039-0828722322
Internet in Paestum - Capaccio Scalo
Internet Caffe in Capaccio Scalo, Via Italia 61, Nr.298 Tel: 0828-814075 - 4 Computer
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Paestum (sights.seindal.dk) Good information about the history of Paestum with active map of the excavation area and photos.
Doric temples (art-and-archaeology.com) Doric Greek Temples in Sicily - Interesting information about the order and construction of Doric temples.
Bücher zu Paestum Bei Amazon ist der Versand von Büchern normalerweise (außer bei Fremdanbietern) völlig frei von Versandkosten.
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