Italy // Campania //

Paestum and around

About an hour’s bus ride south of Salerno, the ancient site of Paestum spreads across a large area at the bottom end of the Piana del Sele – a wide, flat plain grazed by the buffalo that produce a good quantity of southern Italy’s mozzarella cheese. Paestum, or Poseidonia as it was known, was founded by Greeks from Sybaris in the sixth century BC, and later, in 273 BC, colonized by the Romans, who Latinized the name. But by the ninth century a combination of malaria and Saracen raids had decimated the population and left the buildings deserted and gradually overtaken by thick forest – the site wasn’t rediscovered until the eighteenth century during the building of a road through here. It’s a desolate, open place even now (“inexpressibly grand”, Shelley called it), mostly unrecognizable ruin but with three golden-stoned temples that are among the best-preserved Doric temples in Europe. Of these, the Temple of Neptune, dating from about 450 BC, is the most complete, with only its roof and parts of the inner walls missing. The Basilica of Hera, built a century or so earlier, retains its double rows of columns, while the Temple of Ceres at the northern end of the site was used as a Christian church for a time. In between, the forum is little more than an open space, and the buildings around are mere foundations.

Immediately south of Paestum, the coastline bulges out into a broad, mountainous hump of territory known as the Cilento – one of the remotest parts of Campania.

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