Imagine that the finest preserved Greek Doric Temples in the world reside not in Greece, but Italy. It’s true. Less than an hour south of Salerno are the remains of an ancient port city which once brought wealth to that part of Magna Grecia.
When the Greeks arrived and began to build their city, they selected a flat plain at the intersection of the River now called the Sele and the Tyrrhenian Sea. With ease of access to the river-bringing supplies inland-and the sea for trade with the countries on the perimeter of the Mediterranean, the colony thrived until the invasion of other cultures.
Only twenty miles down the coast was the partner city of Paestum, Agripoli. Located, now, on a high promontory above a natural harbor, the town of Agripoli traded with Paestum for the supplies and products used to trade with, and subdue, the indigenous people-the Lucanians.
The temples in Paestum were built between 600 BC and 450 BC, symbols of Greek power in the southern Tyrrhenian Sea. Named Poseidonia by the Greeks, the colony was eventually overtaken by the Lucanians (an indigenous people who occupied lands near where the colony of Poseidonia was established) who renamed it Paistos. When Rome conquered those lands, they renamed it Pesto or Paestum.
It was not until the 18th Century that efforts were made to mark the archaeological site, catalog its treasures and establish protection of the lands around the site. Only about fifteen percent of the ancient city has been excavated; the remaining lands are in private hands.
It is nothing short of breathtaking to suddenly come up on the temples and archaeological site. The coast road that connects the Amalfi Coast Road at Vietri sul Mare to Salerno and then on to Paestum travels across lands fought over during WWII. A nearby cemetery at Battipaglia is a stark reminder of those times. (A side note that the home of the best Mozzarella Buffa comes from this area of Italy, particularly near Battipaglia. Try Tenuta Vanullo for tours and exceptional meals.)
This place is rarely busy. I’ve been to the site numerous times and it is unusual to see more than two groups of ten people or more. The site is quiet and exudes a melancholy air of age. The museum is well worth visiting so please plan on including time to explore the treasures from years of excavation.
There is a very nice small hotel in the area, along with some restaurants. The hotel information is included in the “IF YOU GO” section, below.
Why should you visit? Well, less than 1/100th of the crowds of Pompeii, less expensive and crowded than either Pompeii or Herculaneum, easy access, a lovely drive and good food within reach!
IF YOU GO:
Archeological Museum Via Magna Grecia – Paestum. Phone +39 0828 811 023 / +39 0828 722654. Open daily 08.30 a.m.– 7.30 p.m (last admission: 6:50PM)
Ticket (Museum + Archeological Area): € 9,00 pp
This lovely, small and very fairly priced hotel was renovated in very old farm buildings. Just six minutes walk from one of the ancient city gates of Paestum, the rooms here are clean and service is well provided.