During our trip to Amalfi Coast, Italy we had the opportunity to visit some remarkable historic sites such as Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius and Paestum. While Pompeii is very famous and has been written in detail by many, I wanted to write about a less well-known, but just as fascinating (in different ways) visit to Paestum.
Paestum is one of the most important archaeological sites in Italy and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1998. Bit of history here – Paestum was founded 600 B.C. by Greeks from Sybaris, which was at that time an important Greek city in Calabria, and the city was important due to the surrounding fertile lands.
First thing we enjoyed when we got here was the lack of people outside the archeological site and no queues to get tickets! With 4 young children and one baby(not all mine!) in tow, this was a bonus in historical sightseeing attractions! We paid €7 for adults and free for children under 18 and entered the gates to open green spaces all around. There were several points of interest that included temples, amphitheatre, forum, outer walls and remains of a gymnasium. Locals come here for picnics and nice family days out as well.
Basilica is the oldest of the temples at Paestum. It was built around 550 B.C and was called “Basilica” by mistake in the 18th century, as archaeologists thought it was a Roman building. After much research into the carvings inside, experts were able to establish that the ancient temple was dedicated to Hera (Juno), worshipped as the goddess of fertility and motherhood.
Temple of Poseidon
This temple was also dedicated to Hera, built around 450 B.C. a contemporary of the Parthenon in Athens. Like the Parthenon, the temple was built in the classical Doric style
Temple of Ceres rises on the highest point of Paestum, and again it was wrongly called Ceres as it was actually dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and arts. What was interesting about temple (from what we read) was that it was built in two different styles, early Doric and Ionic. I am no archaeology student so couldn’t really tell, but they all looked very impressive to me! The temple was built around 500 B.C. about half a century before the Temple of Poseidon and half a century after the Basilica.
The Walls of the Town:
Just outside of the Basilica, there was a stretch of wall along the southern side. Apparently at one point in time this wall surrounded the whole town, was almost 5 kilometer long, 15 meters high and 5-7 meters wide along with a deep moat full of water, as well as having 24 watch towers along the perimeter. To try and prevent damage from earthquakes, these walls were built on the edge of a pentagonal limestone bank.
The Ampitheatre was very impressive and it was great fun for the children. We told them about its history and how it was used for the fight of gladiators and wild beasts. We read that the various building techniques exhibited in the Amphitheatre are the result of restorations and changes brought by an earthquake that took place in 62 A.D. It still amazes me how very old these buildings are! Kids had fun climbing to the top of the arches, walking along the walls.
The Underground Chapel
There was also a small underground building before reaching the Temple of Ceres. This was very noticeable due to its large red tiles. It was discovered in 1954 and still is a mystery. It is thought it may have been a small underground temple dedicated to a fertility goddess, or a symbolic tomb dedicated to the founder of the town. Archaeologists found eight bronze vases containing still soft honey, since all the vases were sealed with wax. These can be found at the Museum at Paestum.
The boys had the most fun at this place 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 gymnasium 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.
Besides the temples, Paestum has a lot to offer once one is tired of such awe-inspiring culture and history! There are many 4-star luxury hotels and numerous camp grounds along the long beaches with pine and eucalyptus groves. In the summer, there are also many open-air concerts and other events close to the temples. It was nice to see that Paestum was not your typical tourist resort, more of a local getaway, at least in the off-season when we visited the place. We had also been to Pompeii during this trip and even though it was amazing, it was far more crowded and touristy. Can’t imagine what Pompeii is like during high season!
We found Paestum one of those archeological/historical attractions that’s great to visit with children. The open spaces, the lack of crowds, the green surroundings made it an enjoyable and memorable experience for everyone.
We were staying nearby at the lovely fishing village of Saint Marco di Castellabate in close proximity to many attractions including Cilentro National Park and the coast of Salernio. We would highly recommend this region, especially during off-season where prices were low, there were few tourists and I can’t even begin to recommend the amazing food and wine. We have been to Italy several times since – you can read about our other travel adventures here and loved it every single time!