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The Names Have Changed But Paestum Is the Same

ITALY | Saturday, 30 October 2021 | Views [124]

Interior columns, Second Temple of Hera, Paestum

Interior columns, Second Temple of Hera, Paestum

PAESTUM, THE CITY FORMERLY KNOWN as Poseidonia, was a thriving Greek port in the 6th Century BCE—the Romans changed its name when they took over in 273 BCE. When the river silted up creating a malarial swamp, Paestum suffered from increasingly severe malaria epidemics. Attacks by Muslim raiders as the Roman Empire continued to decline finally proved too much and Paestum was abandoned. It dropped from sight and existed in obscurity for more than 1000 years. 


                 Temple of Athena

The archeologists who “discovered” Paestum in the 18th Century can be forgiven for naming the temple for Ceres, the Greek goddess of agriculture. Its Doric columns glow like golden sheaves of wheat in the autumn sunshine. It was the first of Paestum’s three temples we passed, and photographed, while walking along the road to buy our entry ticket. Modern excavations showed it was dedicated to Athena, the Greek war goddess, not Ceres.  


        Ekklesiasterion, it's a mouthful

It was the Greeks who gave us Democracy although I doubt they would recognize what we’ve done to it lately. As a reminder there is a wonderfully intact Ekklesiasterion where the popular assembly would meet in a Greek city-state to govern.


                First Temple of Hera

The best was yet to come. Two other wonderfully intact (except for the roofs) temples, also misnamed sit just beyond the entrance. The oldest of the three was called the “Basilica” by archeologists who thought it was Roman, not Greek. To Romans a basilica was a civic building and Christians later adopted its floor plan, and name, for churches.   While still referred to as “Basilica” it properly known as the First Temple of Hera.


                                   Second Temple of Hera

The Temple of Neptune or Poseidon, is now called the Second Temple of Hera, which gets a bit confusing. While all three have multiple monikers, Doric columns and are constructed from a local limestone called travertine, each is unique. 


       Roman Forum, not Greek

I posted a glowing journal entry when we first visited in 2012 (journals.worldnomads.com/vagabonds) and a decade hasn’t changed my opinion. Paestum is one of the most impressive archeological sites I have seen—certainly the best Greek site, including Athens.  And The Second Temple of Hera—or Neptune or Poseidon—is the best of the lot.


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