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In ancient times the territory of Metaponto occupied the vast plain that stretched along the Ionian coast between the rivers Lato, to the north, and Cavone, south, reaching into the first foothills, in what is now part of the basilicata region of southern Italy.
The Greek colony originally settled in a region already densely inhabited by indigenous peoples, such as the Enotri and Chones, which was later expanded by the entry of goods and people coming from the Greek-speaking Aegean.
Metaponto village and resort
Today Metaponto is a hamlet of the village of Bernalda at Matera, with about 1000 inhabitants between the rivers Bradano and Basento. The village has an economy based on agriculture and tourism.
The coastal area, called "Metaponto Lido," is a popular resort with a wide selection of campsites and hotels near the beach, while the main town area of Metaponto is slightly inland, about 3 km from the coast.
The Metaponto Archaeological Park
The most important tourist attraction apart from the beach is the archaeological site of Metaponto, where excavations have uncovered the ruins of the ancient Greek colony of Metaponto, such as the Antiquarium, the theatre, the agora and several temples dedicated to Athena, Apollo, Hera, Aphrodite and Demeter, along with Roman era monuments of such as the “castrum".
Most of the Doric style temples at Metaponto were built in the period between 570 BC and 530 BC. The temple of Aphrodite stands out, having been built in the Ionic style in 470 BC.
The so-called “Tavole Palatine” is a late 6th century Doric temple dedicated to Hera, built on the right bank of the river Bradano in an area where were the ruins of a Neolithic village have been found.
This site at Metaponto is also known as the "School of Pythagoras" [570-495 BC] in honour of the Greek mathematician who spent time here during the last years of his life.
The 15 Doric columns of this ancient temple give an idea of both the economic and cultural magnificence of Metaponto in the centuries before Roman times - the temple is 34 meters long and 34 meters wide. The name "Tavole Palatine" dates back to the Middle Ages.
Despite the natural degradation, the temple is in good condition due to restoration work that began in 1960.
At the archaeological site of the Tavole Palatine there is also a small archaeological museum called the "Antiquarium of Metaponto", with a rich collection of Greek pottery.
Elsewhere in the archaeological site the sacred area with "Temple C" was probably dedicated to Athena; the Temple B, dedicated to Apollo Lycaios; and the temple D dedicated to Artemis.
Between the “agora” and the line of the east wall the Roman “Castrum" developed and is thought to have been the site of a Roman military garrison in the third century BC.
Archaeological Museum in Pisticci
An important collection of artefacts found near the archaeological ruins of Metaponto is held in the nearby Archaeological Museum in Pisticci.
The museum is divided into themed rooms for each historical period: the prehistoric period, the Greek colonization and integration with the native populations, the Hellenistic period and Roman times.
The main sections describe the life and customs of the earliest populations, such as:
- the Enotri and Chones during the Middle Bronze Age and the Iron Age;
- the arrival of the Greeks during the 7th century BC;
- the formation of the colony with the occupation of the territory and the development of the city.
Prehistoric finds exhibited include jewelry and funerary objects found in the necropolis of the area and, in particular ivory objects.
Note: photo shows a 6th century altar from Metaponto with the fight between Hercules and Triton - this is now held in the Louvre in Paris
Gourmets visiting Metaponto won't be disappointed and we recall that Torre a Mare is also famous for its local dishes based on fish; suggested first courses include 'tagliatelle with pine nuts and crab meat' and 'shrimp and zucchini'.
Other local fish dishes include sea urchins, mussels, oysters, salmon marinated in green sauce and octopus salad and potatoes.
See also history of Metaponto
You can find more local travel ideas in the Basilicata guide.