Not surprisingly, most of the ancient ruins you can see in Italy are Roman. Just an hour from Salerno, there is something else… and it’s much older: Greek ruins.
Paestum’s ancient ruins are the best-preserved Greek ruins on the Italian mainland. You can also find many more amazing remnants from ancient Greece on the island. You may be used to hearing about men and masculine deities in ancient Greece, but this site shows that it is not the case. All three major temples at Paestum were built to honor female goddesses.
A treasure trove of archaeological finds from the Etruscan and Greek civilizations can be found at the site’s archaeological museum. Another plus? Another bonus?
600 B.C. Paestum was founded in 600 B.C. by the Greeks. It was conquered by Romans in 273 B.C. You can still see archaeological evidence of their conquest in Paestum today. However, the most impressive and well-preserved ruins in Paestum are Greek.
The Temple Of Hera II,is located in the middle of all three temples. It is the one that most awes. It is probably called the Temple Of Neptune by your guidebook.archaeologists now know it was dedicated to Hera (the goddess of women, marriage), thanks to votive offerings left in pits near the temple by worshippers. The temple dates back to 450 B.C. and is still intact, with the exception of some parts of the roof and inner walls. It is one of the most well-preserved temples of ancient Greece. It measures 195 by 80 feet.
The Temple Of Hera I was the first of the three temples. It also served as Hera’s first temple. We know this because of the votive offering. The majority of these statues are made from terracotta and have the Greek letters E(eta) + Ph (rho), + A (alpha). There has been some confusion even here. Earlier archaeologists believed it to be a Roman public building. They dubbed it the Basilica of Hera. Although it is smaller than the other, it’s still massive. Its date? 550 B.C.
There’s also the Temple of Athena. It is a small and beautiful temple, which has been mistakenly attributed to Ceres. It was dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, war, and heroism. It dates back to 500 B.C. and was later used for a Christian church.
After you have seen these magnificent temples and the surrounding ruins, (don’t forget the Roman amphitheater which you can only see about half of due to an insensitive 1930 decision to bury the northern half with a road), you can head to the Archaeological Museum.
You should also visit the extremely well-preserved tomb paintings. They were all discovered by accident in 1969 by an (!).artichoke farmer. The frescoes of the Tomb of the Diver are the most well-known. They look as if they were just yesterday but were actually painted in 470 B.C. Some photos show men enjoying a funerary dinner. However, the most well-known image shows a single figure jumping into the water. This image has been taken to be a striking metaphor for death and is the only one like it.
The archaeological museum is open every day from 8:45 am to 7 pm, except on the first and third Mondays of the month. The archaeological site is open daily from 9am and closes one hour before sunset. Both are only 6.50 Euros.
Paestum is a short trip that takes less than one day. The restaurants are also touristy which can be a problem for any place you’re staying the night. Paestum can be reached easily from the Amalfi Coast’s Salerno. (This is one of the reasons we have recommended Salerno as a base).
For the site, you want one of two stops: either Paestum or Capaccio-Roccadaspide. You can take the train directly between Salerno and Paestum (a 30-minute trip) or from Naples (a 1.5-hour journey). There are also buses that are faster but less expensive, such as the CSTP line 34, SITA, and Autolinee Giuliano Bus lines 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 10. CSTP connects Naples to Paestum as does Autolinee Giuliano Bus.