Paestum Archaeological Site



Location: Campania  Map

Established: 660 BC


Description of Paestrum Archaeological Site

Paestrum Archaeological Site is an ancient Roman site in the Campania region of Italy. The city of Paestum was called Poseidonia after god of the sea since its establishment in 660 BC by the Greek settlers from Sybaris. Located on the Tyrrhenian coast, south of Salerno, this city was an outlet for trade between mother- city of Sybaris and Etruscans that lived in the Tuscany. As the Roman republic grew, the Paestum fell in the hands of the Romans in 273 BC. It was renamed Paestrum, but soon after the conquest malaria broke out in the region, largely due to marshy area that surrounded the area. Paestum was abandoned and soon its name and location was lost to obscurity. This allowed its preservation until it was not discovered by the peasants accidentally and later excavated by the archaeologists. Three temples are particularly notable for their design and incredible state of preservation. The Athenion (c. 500 BC), the Temple of Hera (c. 530 BC), and finally the Temple of Neptune (c. 450 BC) that is particularly impressive.

Temple of Apollo (Paestrum)

Temple of Apollo


The area subsequently occupied by the city has been inhabited since prehistoric times. To the east of the Basilica, in the area facing the entrance, artifacts dating from the Palaeolithic age to the Bronze Age have been found; to the south of it, towards Porta Giustizia, the remains of huts have been discovered, testifying to the existence of a prehistoric settlement.

In the area of ​​the Temple of Ceres, and between it and Porta Aurea, archaeological evidence has emerged that document a settlement of the Neolithic age: since both the Basilica and the Temple of Ceres are located on two slight hills - probably more accentuated in prehistoric times - one can imagine that they were occupied by two villages, separated by a small stream that flowed where the Forum is today. Perhaps in the Eneolithic period the two hills were inhabited by the population of Aegean-Anatolian origin belonging to the facies of the Gaudo Civilization, who then chose the locality Gaudo, located 1.4 kilometers north of Paestum, as a privileged place for his burials.

The main literary source on the foundation of Poseidonia is constituted by a passage by Strabo, which puts it in relation with the polis of Sybaris. The interpretation of this passage has long been discussed by scholars. On the basis of the archaeological evidence collected so far, the most valid hypothesis seems to be that according to which the foundation of the colony would have occurred in two stages: the first plant, consisting in the construction of a fortification ("teichos") along the coast, would be followed by the mass arrival of settlers and the actual foundation ("oikesis") of the city.

On the basis of archaeological data, a reconstruction of the framework that led to the birth of the city can be attempted, towards the middle of the seventh century BC, the city of Sibari began to found a series of sub-colonies along the Tyrrhenian coast, with commercial functions: between they include Laos and a port, the most northerly, at the mouth of the Sele, where a sanctuary dedicated to Hera was founded, probably with an emporic value. The Sybarites arrived in the Sele plain through internal roads that connected it to the Ionian Sea.

Thanks to an intense commercial traffic that took place both by sea - coming into contact with the Greek, Etruscan and Latin world - and by land - trading with the local populations of the plain and with the Italic ones in the internal valleys - in the second half of the 7th century BC. the settlement developed quickly which then had to give rise to Poseidonia, an event certainly accelerated by a specific urbanization project. A necropolis, discovered in 1969 just outside the city walls, containing exclusively Greek Corinthian vases, attests that the polis must have been alive already around the year 625 BC.

Poseidonia: Greek age
From 560 BC to 440 BC we are witnessing the period of maximum splendor and wealth of Poseidonia. This peak was due to various factors, some of which can be seen, for example, in the decrease in Etruscan influence on the right bank of the Sele in the first half of the 6th century BC. With the loosening of the Etruscan presence, a vacuum of power and economy in the area north of the Sele, a void of which Poseidonia could not but take advantage.

This event was followed by two other tragic events: the destruction of the city of Siris (= Policoro) on the Ionian Sea, by Crotone, Sibari and Metaponto; and the destruction of Sibari itself in 510 BC, by Crotone. The explosion of well-being and wealth, which is found in Poseidonia in coincidence with this last event, suggests that a good part of the Sybarites, who fled the destroyed city, had to find refuge in their sub-colony, bringing their wealth there. The construction of a monumental underground chapel can be ascribed to the same period: it could be a cenotaph dedicated to Is, the mythical founder of Sibari, built in Poseidonia by the Sybarite refugees. In the same chronological period, fifty years apart from each other, the so-called Basilica (about 560 BC), the so-called "Temple of Ceres" (about 510 BC) and the so-called "Temple of Neptune" are also erected (About 460 BC).

Paistom: Lucanian age

On a date that can be placed between 420 BC and 410 BC, the Lucanians took over the city, changing its name to Paistom. Apart from sporadic references in the sources, the war details of the Lucanian conquest are not known, probably because it must not have been a sudden conquest. It is a process that can be found in other places (for example in the nearby Neapolis), where there was a slow, gradual, but constant infiltration of the Italic element, first recalled by the Greeks themselves for the humblest and servile jobs, and then to become part of the social structure through trade and participation in city life, to the point of prevailing and replacing the political power of the city.

Although Greek writers and poets report the regret of the Poseidoniats for the lost freedom and for the decline of the city, archeology testifies that the period of splendor continued well beyond the Lucanian "conquest", with the production of painted vases (sometimes signed by artists first-rate such as Assteas, Python and the Painter of Aphrodite), with copiously frescoed tombs and precious grave goods. This wealth must have come to a large extent from the fertility of the Sele plain, but also from the production itself of high quality objects, a conspicuous part of those trades established during the previous period. Not even the Greek character of the city disappeared completely, as attested by, besides the production of the painted vases, also the construction of the bouleuterion and the coinage, which preserved its Hellenic prerogatives.

A brief parenthesis was opened in 332 BC, when Alexander the Molossus, king of Epirus - who arrived in Italy at the request of Taranto in defense against Bruzi and Lucani - after having reconquered Eraclea, Thurii, Cosentia, reached Paistom. Here he clashed with the Lucanians, defeating them and forcing them to give him hostages. But Molossus' dream of conquering southern Italy was short-lived: the parenthesis ended in 331 BC, with his death in battle near Pandosia. Paistom thus returned under the Lucanian dominion.

Paestum: Roman age
In 273 BC Rome took Paistom from the Lucan confederation, established a colony under Latin law and changed the name of the city to Paestum. Relations between Paestum and Rome were always very close: the Pestani were socii navales of the Romans, allies who had to supply ships and sailors in case of need. The boats that Paestum and the nearby Velia supplied to the Romans probably had to have a significant weight during the First Punic War. During the Second Punic War Paestum remained a faithful ally of Rome: after the battle of Canne, it even offered to Rome all the gold paterae preserved in its temples. The generous offer was refused by the City, which however did not disdain the ships loaded with grain thanks to which the Romans besieged by Hannibal within the walls of Taranto were able to resist. As a reward for his loyalty, Paestum was allowed to mint its own coin, in bronze, until the time of Tiberius: this coinage is recognized by the initials "PSSC" (Paesti Signatum Senatus Consulto).

Under Roman rule important public works were carried out, which changed the face of the ancient Greek polis: the Forum replaced the enormous space of the agora and reduced the area of ​​the southern sanctuary; the so-called "Temple of Peace", probably the Capitolium; the sanctuary of Fortuna Virile; the amphitheater. Even the private building reflects the well-being that Paestum must have enjoyed in that period, although two important internal communication arteries had been built, the Via Appia and the Via Popilia, which effectively cut the city off the great trade routes: the first connecting Rome directly to the Adriatic and from there to the East, the second crossing the Magna Graecia along a path away from the coast.

The city experienced a relatively early Christianization phenomenon: martyrs at the time of Diocletian are documented. In 370 A.D. a pestàno, Gavinio, brought the body of the apostle San Matteo there, then transferred to Capaccio Vecchio and finally to Salerno.


The geographer Strabo reports that Paestum was made unhealthy by a river that flowed not far away and which spread to create a swamp. This is the Salso, identified with Capodifiume, a stream that still flows close to the southern walls, where, at the Porta Giustizia, it is crossed by a bridge dating back to the 4th century BC. The area surrounding the south-western part of the settlement probably had to begin to become swampy, as the river was no longer able to flow normally due to the progressive silting up of the mouth and of the lido which must have been not far from Porta Marina. It is possible to notice how the people from Pestos tried to run for cover and defend themselves from this calamity, raising the levels of the streets, raising the thresholds of the houses, carrying out canalization works at ever greater heights. Characteristic of the waters of the Salso, mentioned by Strabo, was that of petrifying anything in a short time, being very rich in limestone.

Rediscovered only in 2020, but known from before the nineteenth century is the existence of a 50-meter-long tunnel that connected the Basilica to the Temple of Neptune and which contained four wells for collecting rainwater from the roofs of the neighboring largest buildings in Paestum. The structure, accessible from a stairwell, was also used as a place of worship for ritual ablutions and represented the solution to the age-old water problem of Paestum, caused by the high salinity of the spring waters near the sea and the poor potability of those of Capodifiume.

The swamping of the city meant that it gradually contracted, gradually withdrawing towards the highest point, around the Temple of Ceres, where the last inhabited nucleus is attested. Cut off from the commercial lines, and its port silted up, the life of the ancient polis had to be reduced to mere subsistence. With the crisis of the pagan religion, a Christian basilica (Chiesa dell'Annunziata) was built not far from the Temple of Ceres, while a few years later the same temple was transformed into a church. An interesting case of religious syncretism can be found in the iconography of the Virgin venerated in the Pestana area: one of the symbols of the Hera poseidoniate, the pomegranate, emblem of fertility and wealth, passed to the Madonna, who took the epithet of Madonna del Granato.

Although it had become a bishopric at least starting from the 5th century AD, in the 8th century or 9th century AD. Paestum was definitively abandoned by the inhabitants who took refuge in the nearby mountains: the new settlement took its name from the sources of the Salso, Caput Aquae, from which the toponym Capaccio probably derives. Here they found escape from malaria and Saracen raids, bringing with them the cult of Santa Maria del Granato, still venerated in the sanctuary of the Madonna del Granato.

In the 11th century, Roger the Norman started an operation of stripping the materials of the temples of Paestum, while Roberto il Guiscardo plundered the abandoned buildings of the city to obtain marble and sculptures to be used in the construction of the Cathedral of Salerno.

Rediscovery and excavations
With the abandonment of Paestum, only a vague memory remained of the ancient city. In the Renaissance period various writers and poets cited Paestum, while ignoring its exact location, placing it in Agropoli or even in Policastro: they were above all quotations from Virgil, Ovid and Propertius, on the beauty and scent of the pestane roses that bloomed twice in one year. In the 16th century the site began to experience a new phase of life, with the formation of a tiny center hinged on the church of the Annunziata. Only at the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, there are scholarly references, in descriptive works of the Kingdom of Naples, to three "theaters" or "amphitheaters" located a short distance from the Sele river. Around the middle of the 17th century, Charles of Bourbon had the current SS18 built, which divided the amphitheater into two parts, thus sanctioning the definitive rediscovery of the ancient city. The first reliefs, engravings and prints depicting the temples and places were made and published, to which were added drawings and sketches of the admired visitors who were gradually increasing. It soon became a must see on the Grand Tour.


«Endlich, ungewiss, ob wir durch Felsen oder Trümmer führen, konnten wir einige große länglich-viereckige Massen, die wir in der Ferne schon bemerkt hatten, als überbliebene Tempel und Denkmale einer ehemals so prächtigen Stadt unterscheiden.»



"Finally, unsure whether we walked on rocks or rubble, we could recognize some oblong and square boulders, which we had already noticed from a distance, as surviving temples and memories of a once magnificent city."
(Goethe, Journey to Italy, 23 March 1787)


Famous are the splendid tables by Piranesi (1778), by Paoli (1784), by Saint Non (1786). The art historian Winckelmann visited Paestum in May 1758 and the encounter with the Doric temples of Pesta was decisive for his interpretation of Greek art as the origin of Western art; Goethe, who was in Paestum on March 24, 1787, recognized in the imposing shapes of the temples in Pesta the historical refutation of the ideal paradigm of a slender and elegant Doric architecture.

However, this widespread interest was not followed by research and excavation campaigns, due to the limestone bank formed over the millennia by precipitation from the waters of the Salso: covering everything, it had convinced scholars and archaeologists that the ancient city, in addition to temples, nothing had been preserved. It was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that, recognizing a recent formation in the bench, the first excavations were undertaken: between 1907 and 1914 archaeological investigations, led by Spinazzola, interested the area of ​​the "Basilica", moving towards the Forum; between 1925 and 1938 the excavations of the Forum were completed - with the identification of the so-called "Temple of Peace", the comitium, the Via di Porta Marina, and the amphitheater - and the research around the Temple of Ceres intensified; The excavation of the walls was therefore completed, partly restored with questionable criteria, and the so-called Porta Marina and Porta Giustizia were identified.

On 9 September 1943 Paestum was affected, together with the locality Laura, by the marine activities of the allied forces, following the landing in Salerno. After World War II the systematic excavations of the city had a strong impulse: in the 1950s the investigations of the areas around the temples were deepened, leading to the recovery of the votive cabinets of the "Basilica" and the "Temple of Neptune"; the "Temple of Ceres" was freed from later superfetations; in July 1954 the underground chapel was discovered. More recent was the identification of the insulae to the west of the Via Sacra, allowing us to understand some elements of the inhabited area of ​​the ancient city, its urban layout and its building development.

Between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the numerous and very rich necropolis of Paestum were systematically excavated, allowing the recovery not only of extraordinary and almost unique works, such as the Tomb of the Diver, but also of the rich funerary objects with the splendid locally produced ceramics, the work of renowned artists such as Assteas, Python and the so-called Painter of Aphrodite. Starting from 1988, thanks to funding provided as part of the F.I.O. (Funds for Investment and Employment) and the subsequent funds made available by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities on the proceeds of the Lotto game, to those allocated by the Multiannual Plan for Archeology (2000-2002) and, finally, to the community resources of the Regional Operational Program (POR Campania 2000-2006), the Superintendence was able to activate an organic plan of excavation, restoration and enhancement of the monuments of the ancient city.

Archeological area
The walls
Paestum is surrounded by an almost totally preserved wall, with a polygonal perimeter that extends for about 4.75 km, following the trend of the travertine bank on which the city stands. It consists of a double curtain wall of large square blocks, filled in the center with earth and interspersed with 28 square and circular towers, almost all reduced to ruins.

At the cardinal points, the four main access doors open; there are also a series of 47 minor openings, the posterulae, functional both for access to the city and for the organization of defense:

the Porta Sirena, named after a fantastic animal sculpted with apotropaic functions outside it, is located on the east side;
on the south side there is Porta Giustizia, with a large entrance vestibule, defended on the sides by two towers, one circular, one square;
the west entrance, which faces the sea, was through Porta Marina, also equipped with a large paved vestibule and defended on the sides by two towers, one circular and one square;
little remains of the Porta Aurea, north of the city, demolished in the early nineteenth century for the passage of the State Road 18.


Via Sacra and residential districts
The Via Sacra, also used during religious processions, was brought to light in 1907. 9 meters wide, it is paved with large limestone blocks - some bearing the groove left by the passage of the carriage wheels - and equipped with raised sidewalks; the Roman paving follows the previous layout of the Greek age. On both sides, where there are no public or cultural areas, the residential areas of the city extend, not yet investigated in their entirety and complexity. The excavated part has large stately structures, superimposed on more ancient buildings.

The Forum
The area of ​​the Forum, rectangular in shape, was arranged after the settlement of the Latin colony, resizing the previous public space of the Greek age, the agora, and removing a strip of territory to the south from the area (temenos) of the southern sanctuary .

The Roman square is flanked by various public and religious buildings and shops and surrounded on three sides by at least a portico on a slightly raised floor. On the southern side there is a square and apsed building, built on a previous Greek construction, perhaps a stoà: four marble bases of columns are preserved from the imperial age phase placed around an octagonal structure, which has led to the identification of the complex with a macellum . This is followed by a rectangular building communicating with the previous one, with semi-columns leaning against the walls and an exedra: it is thought that this may be the curia. Under its southern wall are the remains of an Italic temple from the Roman Republican age. Another rectangular room represents the remains of the Baths, partially excavated and rebuilt; a small building with three podiums on the back wall was probably the city lararium.

On the north side of the Forum is the so-called "Tempio Italico", probably the Capitolium of the Roman city. It is a hexastyle temple, on a high podium, preceded by a wide staircase with a simple rectangular altar. The eastern side of the temple is grafted onto a tiered building in which the comitium can be recognized: the central area is accessible through vaulted corridors both from the Forum, where the façade served as a suggestum (podium for the oratories), and from the east.

Still to the east there is a small rectangular Greek masonry construction, probably the treasury, seat of the city's treasury. Behind stands the amphitheater, externally in brick, cut in two by the old SS18.

The temples
Miraculously arrived in excellent condition, so much so that they are considered unique examples of Magna Graecia architecture, are the three Doric temples built in the two urban sanctuaries areas of Paestum, dedicated respectively to Hera and Athena. Between 2003 and 2013, the area of ​​the Temples of Paestum was the protagonist of a series of restoration interventions that allowed, in addition to the recovery of the buildings, to shed light on the techniques and materials used for their construction.

Temple of Era I
The so-called "Basilica" is actually a temple dedicated to Era. Peripteral temple (9 x 18 columns), it was built starting from 550 BC. about and owes the misunderstanding of its function to the archaicity of its forms: one of the most evident structural peculiarities is in the enneastilo front (of 9 columns), with the median column aligned with the only internal colonnade, while in more recent age the number of front columns will always be even. It is a Doric temple dedicated to Hera, goddess of fertility, life and birth, protector of marriage and family.

Temple of Era II
The cult attribution of the so-called "Temple of Neptune", the largest among the temples of Paestum, is still problematic at the present stage: the most accredited hypotheses want it to be dedicated to Hera, or to Zeus or to Apollo. The attribution to Neptune is instead an error made by the scholars of the XVIII-XIX century, to whom it seemed inevitable that the largest temple of Poseidonia should be dedicated to the same patron deity of the city. Built entirely in travertine around 460 BC, the building shows stylistic and architectural solutions now close to those of the classical phase of the Doric order and which make it similar to the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, from whose dating it was derived, for comparison, that of the temple of Neptune.

Temple of Athena
The Temple of Athena, built around 500 BC, was previously known as the Temple of Ceres. It is the smallest of the Templar buildings, with Doric columns in the peristyle and Ionic columns in the cell.

The public areas

The sanctuary, dedicated to Fortuna Virilis, was intended for the fertility rites that were held during the feasts in honor of Venus (Venerea).

A large swimming pool (47 m x 21 m) is associated with the sanctuary, the central element of the venerea. On the stone pillars, still visible today, a wooden platform was placed on which the statue of Venus seated on a throne was placed.

Married women who participated in the ritual plunged into the pool in the hope of having a happy birth.


The sanctuary of Hera at the mouth of the Sele
The sanctuary located near the mouth of the Sele is an ancient place of extramural worship dedicated to the goddess Hera, who according to the mythical tradition was founded by the Argonauts. It most likely had emporium functions.

Numerous necropolises dot the area outside the walls. One of the largest, about a kilometer from the archaeological site, is the Gaudo necropolis. Extending for about 2000 m², it has a series of characteristics such as to be attributed to a cultural facies in its own right, defined precisely as the culture of Gaudo. The necropolis was discovered by chance during the landing of the US Army in Salerno, during the works for the construction of an airstrip.

The museum collects an important collection of artifacts found in the areas surrounding Paestum, first and foremost the funeral objects from the Greek and Lucanian necropolises. There are countless vases, weapons and frescoed tombstones.

The most famous come from the so-called Tomb of the Diver (480-470 BC), a unique example of Greek painting of the classical age and of Magna Graecia, with a symbolic representation interpreted as the transition from life to the kingdom of the dead.

The series of frescoed tombs, dating back to the Lucanian period of the city, is also noteworthy.

The museum also exhibits metopal cycles from the Heraion del Sele.

The coast
Paestum is also a seaside resort, with a sandy beach 12 kilometers long and bordered by a pine forest overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.