Paestum was an important Greek city from the 6th century BC, then later a Roman city from the 3rd century BC, to the south-east of Naples. The site is best known for its three ancient temples and will be one of the highlights of your visit to the Campania region. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
This area was known as Magna Graecia and was the area of Sicily and southern Italy that was occupied as a Greek colony. In Ancient Greek times Paestum was called Poseidonia after Poseidon, Greek god of the sea.
Of course, the most interesting and most visited tourist attraction at Capaccio is the archaeological site of Paestum. The site was lost in forest and malarial swamps from the 9th century to the 18th century.
As well as the value of the temples themselves, Paestum is also important because of the scholars and intellectuals who visited in the 18th century and in Napoleonic times and "rediscovered" ancient Greek and Latin architecture through the temples, with a large impact on architecture across western Europe.
It was also in the 18th century that the temples were greatly damaged, with the stones used for local road building projects.
Paestum has also been enhanced through the restoration works that have been carried out since the 1930's, with the participation of both Italian and foreign experts. Below we mention the principal ancient monuments at the site.
Temple of Poseidon (Temple of Neptune)
The temple of Poseidon-Neptune in the archaeological area dates (according to F. Krauss, one of the greatest scholars of the temples of Paestum) to 460-450 BC: that is, it was built before the construction of the Parthenon in Athens.
The Temple of Poseidon was defined by Krauss as a building of almost perfect form and “harmony” and the best among all the temples of the Magna Graecia region. The temple had a length of 59 meters and a width of 24 meters, with a height of about 9 meters.
The architect of the temple has been described as "one of the greatest geniuses in history" and the Doric Temple of Poseidon is a wonderful example of Greek influence in the Mediterranean area, which became a kind of "reference model" for other temples of Magna Graecia.
Basilica of Hera
You now come to the so-called "Basilica", which is the oldest temple at Paestum. It is a peripteral temple 18 columns in length and 9 in width, dating from 540-510 BC. The Basilica is one of the most famous and best preserved Doric temples in Magna Graecia. The name "Basilica" is based on the fact that the scholars of the 18th century thought it was not a temple but a court.
In fact the temple was dedicated to the goddess Hera and in the west wall of the "shrine" there was a Sanctuary (= "Adyton") where the statue of the deity was located.
According to Krauss, the temple dates back to 510 BC and the column height is about six meters. The temple was built in honour of the Roman goddess of fertility and agriculture. The number of columns on the longest side is twice that present on the small side, the same proportions used in the Parthenon in Athens, the largest Doric temple of antiquity.
City walls and the Via Sacra
The perimeter walls of the ancient city were nearly 4000 meters land and incorporated four gates.
The whole town is crossed by the famous "Via Sacra" of that Horace famously referred to: [ "Ibam forte Via Sacra"( “Along the Sacred Road I strolled one day”, Horace, “Sermones”, I, 9] and near which various civil and religious structures were once situated.
National Archaeological Museum and other sites of interest at Paestum and Capaccio
The National Archaeological Museum at Paestum is of great interest. It is one of the largest museums of its type in the world and a destination for many Italian and foreign visitors. Located in the archaeological area, the museum brings together objects found in the city, in the necropolis and in the sanctuary of Hera.
Among the most significant works that can be seen we should mention the "Tomb of the Diver", dating back to 480 BC and of extraordinary archaeological importance being one of the few examples of archaic Greek painting.
Near the museum is the interesting Church of the Annunciation, a Christian or proto-Romanesque basilica.
The natural environment
The coastal pine forest along the nearby Cilento coast also has a particular charm and consists of many varieties of pine along the sea shore and dense chestnut forests behind.
Capaccio today is an important town in Campania, both for the archaeological site of Paestum and for the seaside attractions and beaches of the Cilento coast: combined these make the coast near Paestum an interesting place for a summer holiday, with the combination of beach activities and the chance to enjoy the cultural climate.
See Paestum history for the detailed history of Paestum.
Map of Paestum and places to visit
Paestum places to visit
See more places nearby in the Campania guide