Paestum is one of the most important archaeological centers in Italy, located in the southern part of the gulf of Salerno, known as Sinus Paestanus. The city was founded around 600 BC by the Greeks of Sibari with the name Poseidonia. At the end of the 5th century. A. C., Poseidonia was defeated in war by the Lucani, a Sannitian race population who replaced the Greeks in the government of the city, and changed its name to Paestum. The Imperial age monuments give Paestum the image of a provincial town with limited building activity since the beginning of the 2nd century AD, when a slow and unstoppable decline started.
The Paestum archaeological park, recognized by UNESCO as “Heritage of Humanity,” stands out for its three temples and for its walls.
The Paestum wall is one of the best-preserved fortress systems in Magna-Greece. Almost five kilometers long, with an average thickness of five meters, with the shape of a pentagon.
At the four cardinal points there are four large doors. The walls are reinforced by circular, semicircular and square towers, and are crossed by many small gates. The largest and the oldest of the three Doric temples dates back to the middle of the 6th century BC. Since its structure did not respect the canons of sacred architecture, archaeologists of the 18th century thought it was a profane public building, giving it the name of the Basilica. Some recent findings, inside an altar and elsewhere, tell us that the temple was attributed to god Hera. The temple has columns on all sides: 18 on the long sides and 9 on the fronts.
Near the Basilica, on a mild high, stands the best preserved of the three temples: the Temple of Neptune. The monument dates back to the middle of the fifth century BC However, it was not dedicated to Poseidon. Recent findings made possible to establish that the building was dedicated to Hera Argiva, goddess of fertility and maternity. The temple shows 6 columns on the front and 14 on the long sides. The top, characterized by triangular pediments, shows the typical Doric frieze. Near the Neptune Temple to the north, there is the area that dates back to the time after the settlement of the Latin colony. The Paestum forum is one of the oldest Roman rectangular forums. The square is surrounded by a porch with Doric columns. At the center of the northern side, the porch stops at a building known as Tempio Italico. The temple is elevated on a high podium and is accessible by a staircase on the south side, preceded by a simple rectangular altar. Nearby is also a terracing wall. Along the Sacrasorge Street there is the Temple of Athena, also known as the Temple of Ceres. The monument, built at the end of the 6th century BC, is the second in chronological order and the smallest of the three temples.
The monument rests on a three-staircase and hosts a small sanctuary at its centre, where the altar with the sacrificial well remains, as well as the foundations of two other altars.
Unmissable is also a visit to the Archaeological Museum, one of the most important archaeological museums in Italy. It offers an important collection of antiquities from Magna Greece, found during excavations in the homonymous city, as well as in the Necropolis and in the Sanctuary of Foce Sele, where stand out from frescoes from the Tomba del Tuffatore.