Elea — Velia, the cradle of philosophy and medicine

Elea — Velia, the cradle of philosophy and medicine

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Among the cities of Magna Graecia, Elea deserves a place of honour. Together with the nearby Poseidonia — Paestum, it constitutes an admirable example of a Greek polis.

Founded by the Greek colonist from Phocaea, who took to the sea to escape Persian domination, it was immediately an example of good governance, an important commercial centre and above all a cultural beacon that gave birth to Parmenides and Zeno and hosted Xenophanes of Colophon, founders of the Eleatic School, true pillar in the history of philosophical thought.

Among the stones of this incredible archaeological site sat the philosophers who gave shape and basis to Western philosophy.

Plato will dedicate a work to the great Eleatic, a dialogue between Socrates, Parmenides and Zeno, entitled “Parmenides”.

Aristotle will call Zeno “the inventor of dialectic”. And even in recent and very recent times, the thought of Parmenides and the Eleatic School is at the centre of the philosophical debate, just think of Hegel, Emanuele Severino, Piergiorgio Odifreddi, Battista Mondin, according to whom “Parmenides reaches the highest peak: it is the peak of being, the apex of metaphysics. Parmenides was the first to conquer this marvellous peak, which, after him, all the other great metaphysicians will also try to reach”.

Elea — Velia, “City of fugitives” as the great poet Ungaretti wrote, was one of the richest, most advanced and cultured cities in the entire ancient world.

Elea had such a solid body of laws that for centuries it could resist the attacks of its powerful neighbours, especially Lucanians and Posidoniates. And the heart of this Constitution was the need to build both equality and fraternity, a beautiful concept that has appeared in this place more than 2600 years ago. In addition, in Elea there was a famous Asclepeion: nowadays, we could call it  hospital and medical research centre.

Parmenides, as well as a philosopher and legislator, was also a doctor: his many studies on the body and diseases make him the precursor of Hippocrates. But in Elea there was also a too much forgotten reality: women had great importance in the role of doctors. Above all, the Divine Hygiea, doctor and priestess, but the Eteria of the Eleatic philosophers had men and women alike, an equality that is often a utopia everywhere in the world today.

This tradition then continued in the Schola Medica Salernitana, the first and most important medical institution in Europe in the Middle Ages, which included great female doctors: Trotula de Ruggiero, Sichelgaita of Salerno, Abella Salernitana, Constance Calenda, Rebecca Guarna, Mercuriade.

Its territory, the Kora of Elea, included the entire coast of the current Cilento: Palinuro, Scario, Pixous were some of its ports. Its richness and splendour are still perfectly visible in the archaeological remains: the mighty walls, with evidences of the two construction phases of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the Via Sacra, the Agora, the Ionic temple, the Acropolis, the Theatre of the Hellenistic period, later revived in Roman times. And finally, the Porta Rosa, the first example of a round arch, which was therefore not an Etruscan invention.

Like Paestum, it continued to shine in Roman times, when it changed its name to Velia: the aristocrats made it a favorite holiday spot, Cicero for example, loved it very much. Proofs of this love for Velia crowd many of his writings.

It is also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is another of the must-see sites in Cilento.

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