Paestum, the Plain of Gods

Paestum, the Plain of Gods


It is said that there are some places to see at least once in life: well, Paestum is undoubtedly one of them.

One of the most magical places, an essential stop on the Grand Tour that fascinated so much the European aristocrats from the seventeenth century onwards, Paestum was one of the main centres of Magna Graecia.

For its incomparable beauty, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Its imposing walls guard a series of Doric temples whose construction dates back to the sixth century BC, second in the world for state of preservation only to the Theseion in Athens.

The Temple of Neptune, or Poseidonion, is the largest and best preserved of the Paestum’ temples.

Then there are the Temple of Hera or Basilica, and the Temple of Athena, also known as the Temple of Ceres, contemporary with the only fresco from the Greek era in the world, the splendid Tomb of the Diver.

The city was originally called Poseidonia, in honour of the God of the Sea Poseidon.

It rises in the area of the prehistoric Gaudo culture, and was founded by the Sybarites, because of their need to open a trade route between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas.

Johann Joachim Winckelmann, one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, a precursor of Neoclassicism, theorized the absolute superiority of Greek art. Yet, he never went to Greece: Paestum was his source of inspiration, in Paestum, in front of what he called “the oldest preserved architectures outside Egypt” he discovered what Greece and classical art were.

Even today, those who visit Paestum can walk among the columns of the temples, along the streets of the ancient city, such as the Via Sacra, among buildings from different periods of this magnificent city, the Poseidonia of the Greeks, the Paistom of the Lucanians who conquered it around to 410 BC, finally the Paestum of the Romans, who occupied it in 273 BC.

Here then, alongside the Greek monuments, you can see the Roman ones, such as the Forum, the Gymnasium, the Amphitheatre. Like Elea — Velia, its stones tell of the purest Greek — Roman antiquity. And not only that: among the frescoes of Paestum, you can discover that the gladiator games, so famous in Roman times, were an invention of the Lucanians. They celebrated the dead with games and banquets, and painted the tombs with these scenes. The iconic image of the Roman gladiator was born in Paestum.

And again, it was Asteas, the very well-known vase painter from Paestum, who was the first to paint the symbolic image of the identity of an entire continent: the daughter of Agenor of Tyre, a Phoenician princess loved by Zeus, riding a bull. Her name? Europa.

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