Just to the north of Agropoli lies Paestum, one of the best-preserved Ancient Greek sites in the world. It was founded some time around 600 BC, so it is older than anything I’ve seen to date. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon, when the sun is setting over the sea and casts a superb golden light on the temples.
The area around the site is the usually mess of magnets, sunglasses and other paraphernalia that seems to accompany every place visited by tourists nowadays. On the other hand, the actual number of people at the place was negligible, and we were free to roam around without any crowds at all.
The museum houses an incredible array of finds, mostly from the nearby necropolis. Here, many tombs were discovered and are now on display – both the painted walls of the tombs and all the treasures found within them. Only one is truly Greek (the others come from a slightly later period of Lucanian rule), that being the Tomb of the Diver, which is one of the hallmarks of Paestum.
However, all of the frescoes are fascinating, as are the countless vases, bottles, pots and sculptures, many of which seem entirely untouched by time.
Scattered all over the field outside were the remains of the ancient town of Poseidonia, later renamed Paestum by the Romans. There are three magnificent temples, two dedicated to Hera, which lie right next to each other are quite different in terms of structure (in details which I wouldn’t know about if I didn’t read it on Wikipedia).
A bit further apart stands the temple of Athena, which is smaller and when viewed from the front it almost seems to hover about the ground. The area between the temples is covered with ruins of a settlement dating back 2500 years and abandoned in the Middle Ages.
There are remains of streets, houses, courtyards as well as a Roman forum. There would also have been a typical small Roman amphitheatre, but a road was built across the site in 1930, burying the eastern half. It is said by local inhabitants that the civil engineer responsible was tried, convicted and received a prison sentence for what was described as wanton destruction of an historic site. I wonder how long it will take before somebody digs up the road and reveals the rest of the theatre… it’s not like there is much of interest above.
The two temples of Hera are magnificent, even without being allowed to actually wander through them. The perfect regularity of the columns, dozens upon dozens of them one like the other, truly creates an atmosphere that is at once mystical and inspiring and soothing to the mind.
I wonder if the people who built them and worshiped in them ever imagined that more than two millennia later, strange pale creatures with small black boxes and shiny flat contraptions would still stand there in awe, gaping at the temples glowing in the setting sun. I doubt it.
Alternating between wars and symposiums (which were in fact downright drinking parties, and not the congresses and conferences we understand under that term today), I imagine they were pretty busy.