Elea (Italian name Velia, so the town is also known as Elea Velia) is situated south of Posidonia (better known by its more recent name, Paestum), on the Tyrrhenian coast of the Lucania (hence in the Campania region of south-west Italy).
The ruins of Elea are found near the current location of Castellammare of Bruca overlooking the mouth of the Alento river. To reach ancient Elea by car follow the road 447 to Palinuro, and turn right on a road that leads to the Acropolis
History of Elea
To appreciate a visit to Elea a little background history is useful if you are to make the most of your visit.
Elea was founded around 540 BC by Phoenicians from Alàlia, Corsica who had abandoned the island after a hard sea battle fought against the Etruscans and Carthaginians. The ancient city then had a long period of economic prosperity that allowed it to remain independent from the Lucane people who lived inland, and formed part of the so-called Magna Grecia - a term used by Polybius (206-124 B.C.) to describe the Greek cities of Southern Italy.
In its day Elea was a very important cultural centre and its inhabitants included some of the most famous philosophers These include Parmenides (6th century B.C.) who was the founder of the Philosophical School of Elea and Zeno (5th century B.C.).
In 88 BC the city was conquered by the Romans, and soon it became a regional centre (a Municipium). The citizens of Elea were recognized as Roman citizens while being permitted to retain the Greek language and customs.
Explore Elea Velia
The ruins at Elea show a massive system of fortifications that encircled around the hill on which the city was found, leading to a top terrace with a square bastion called the Castelluccio (Little Castle). The defensive wall is about 7 kilometres long.
Your visit to the ancient ruins of Elea Velia will start from the district in the south and the Roman necropolis (excavations began here in the early 1950s).
Continue towards the old town by the Porta Marina Sud along the street of the same name. Along here you can also see the remains of important buildings, some of which which date back to the Imperial age.
In Via Porta Rosa you can admire the ancient Roman baths (2nd century BC) and a beautiful open square, before reaching the Porta Rosa (4th century BC), through which you reach a long, ancient road paved with steps which descends to the southern port (Velia had two ports).
The Porta Rosa Gate is truly monumental, built with cut blocks of volcanic tufa, perfectly placed one upon the other without the use of lime, and is in a state of perfect preservation. It is perhaps the only intact monument of the ancient world, and reaches a height of almost six meters.
Close to here is the oldest place of settlement of ancient Elea Velia, known as the Polygonal Villageand with well-preserved ruins of a typical Greek Theatre of the third century BC, with tiers in concentric semicircles and steps about 75cm wide where the spectators sat in front of the stage.
Originally the altar of Dionysus was centrally placed in the theatre and dances performed around the altar.
Follow the Via Sacra which leads to the Acropolis, overlooking the sea. At the Acropolis youcan see a magnificent 5th century BC temple that was probably dedicated to the goddess Athena.
It is thought that Athena was the the emblem of Elea, since coins found show the head of the goddess Athena on one side and a lion devouring its prey on the other.
You can also see the fortifications of the Castelluccio of the Hellenistic period; the mighty Norman castle, probably built between the 11th and 12th centuries; and the 11th century Palatine Chapel.
To see some artefacts from the Velia archaeological excavations go to the "Antiquarian and Archaeological Park" of Velia, where you can admire both the statue of Parmenides and other artefacts (some pots) of the Etruscan and Roman Ages.
Places to visit near Elea-Velia, including Noi-Velia
- If you are visiting in summer the resorts of Agropoli, Palinuro, Santa Maria di Castellabate and Pioppi offer tourist amenities.
- Also very impressive is a visit to the 9th century Santuario della Madonna of Novi Velia, built by Greek-orthodox Byzantines.
For those who prefer the natural environment, also equipped to accommodate tourists, we suggest you visit Novi Velia, about twenty miles from Eleaand in a wooded landscape with vineyards and olive groves on Mount Sacred.
Novi Velia is of Byzantine origin, and was later occupied by the Longobards and Normans. Here you can see the Castle of the Barons of San Marzano, built by the Normans in 1189; the Parish Church which contains some interesting paintings by Andrea from Salerno and an Adoration of the Magi by Giovan Filippo.
We also recommend a visit to the 11th century church of Santa Maria dei Lombardi, with interesting works by pupils of the School of Raffaello.
Cuisine of Elea / Velia
No visit to the region around Elea Velia would be complete without trying the traditional cuisine, based on the local natural produce such as olive oil, wine, bread and pasta, beans and tomatoes. We suggest the Fusilli alla Cilento and struffoli.
Among the main courses, the roast with porcini mushrooms and the Caciocavallo accompanied by local wine, such as Cilento.
Selected places to visit near Elea
See the Campania guide for more travel ideas...