Ancient Greek Cities in Southern Italy – Part II

Tavole Palatine Columns

One of the things I really enjoy about Italy is that it is like an open-air museum,  with new things to continually discover about the origins of our Western civilization. Southern Italy is really interesting from this standpoint since it was extensively colonized by Greek settlers starting around the 8th century BC (see my previous blog post). Chris and I saw even more evidence of this on our way back to our village in Calabria from a visit to Matera last summer. The route back from Matera suggested by Google Maps ended up taking us along the Ionian Sea for a short distance:

Route from Matera to Santa Domenica Talao

Taking a closer look at that route, I noticed an archaeological site marked on the map called “Tavole Palatine” near the city of Metaponto, right along our route:

Metaponto Map

It turns out that the Tavole Palatine (or Palatine tables or hills) are the ruins of a sixth-century BC Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Hera, built on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Metapontum (now known as Metaponto). This intrigued me so we decided to check it out on our drive back from Matera.

We quickly found the entrance to the site, just off the E90 highway.

Tavole Palatine Site Entrance

Chris at the Tavole Palatine Site Entrance
Chris at the Tavole Palatine Site Entrance

The ruins themselves are set back towards the back of the site. You can see fifteen columns of the temple now, but apparently there were originally thirty-two columns making up the original temple. The columns are made of a local limestone called mazzarro.

Tavole Palatine Columns

 

Originally the temple had a tiled roof with colorful decorations. Many remains of terracotta decorations and ceramics were found at the site and were originally kept at the Antiquarium there, but apparently they have all been moved to the Metaponto National Archaeological Museum (which unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to visit).

Antiquarium di Metaponto

Reading up more about the city of Metaponto,  I learned it had become very wealthy as an exporter of grains and corn when it was a Greek colony. I discovered that the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras lived there after leaving Crotone, due to the city’s ongoing skirmishes with its neighboring city of Sybaris or possibly because of being expelled from there along with the followers of his Pythagorean school.

Much later, the slave-rebel Spartacus sacked the town and spent the winter of 73-72 BC there training his army, and from there he went on to fight and defeat many Roman armies for the next two years.

Ancient Greek sites like the Tavole Palatine and Metaponto are only a few of the treasures of Southern Italy that await your visit!  Let me know if have any questions about the area or need any tips on what to see in Southern Italy.

Ancient Greek Cities in Southern Italy

Temple of Neptune

Sunshine, the sea, astonishing natural beauty, unbelievably good pasta, pizza, and wine, and friendly, warm people! These are the reasons my wife Chris and I bought an apartment in Santa Domenica Talao five years ago, in a 400-year old hilltop village in Southern Italy. We also knew the area had a deep rich history,  but little did we know we would stumble upon a 2,500-year-old ancient Greek village literally in our own backyard! But more on that later ….

Our village is in the coastal area of Southern Italy known as the Magna Graecia (literally “Great Greece” in Latin). Greek settlers extensively colonized this area starting around the 8th century BC, who brought with them their dialects of the Ancient Greek language, their religious rites, their traditions of the independent city-state, and most importantly, a variety of the Greek alphabet which evolved into the Latin alphabet.

Magna Graecia Map
Magna Graecia Map

Unquestionably, the highlight of the Magna Grecia is the ancient city of Paestum, about an hour and a half away by train from Santa Domenica Talao, and which we visited the day before we purchased our apartment in April of 2011. Paestum was founded around 600 BC, and it has the best-preserved ruins of Greek temples anywhere outside of Greece.

There are three large temples still remaining, all amazingly well-preserved:

Temple of Athena
Temple of Athena
Temple of Neptune
Temple of Neptune
The Basilica/Temple of Hera
The Basilica/Temple of Hera

After its foundation under the name Poseidonia, the city was conquered by the local Lucanians (who named it Paistos) and then the Romans who again renamed it to Pesto or Paestum. Alongside the original Greek temples, you can now see the remains of Roman roads and houses.

Roman Floor and Foundations
Roman Floor and Foundations
Roman Road
Chris on a Roman road in Paestum

So fast-forward to June of 2016, when I was driving through the village of Marcellina, about 20 min. away from our village, on my way to look for furniture for our apartment. Just outside of Marcellina I noticed a fenced-in area alongside the road with a placard stating “Parco Archeologico di Laos”:

Parco Archeologico di Laos
Parco Archeologico di Laos

Signs on the fence confirmed that this was the site of the ancient Greek city of Laos, founded around 500 B.C.!

Placard at Parco Archaeologico di Laos
Placard at Parco Archaeologico di Laos

Even though a sign stated the park was supposed to be open, the gate was locked. Peering through through the fence I saw what appeared to be foundations of several houses:

Ancient Greek House Foundations
Ancient Greek House Foundations

A few days later, Chris and I drove past the park and noticed that this time the gate was open and there appeared to be a tour group inside. We quickly stopped and went in to look around and saw that the area encompassed a few acres of mostly remains of stone foundations of houses. Several signs described these areas in quite a bit of detail and even described a house (“The Mint House”) that was used to mint coins!

The Mint House
The Mint House

I was amazed to see that this technologically advanced city that even had terracotta sewer pipes!

Sewer Pipe
Sewer Pipe

I had no idea that this ancient city was literally in my own backyard!  I now understand the origin of the name of the Lao River which runs though the large plain above which our village sits:

Lao River Valley
Lao River Valley

Ancient Greek cities like Paestum and Laos are only a few of the treasures of Southern Italy that await your visit!  Let me know if have any questions about the area or need any tips on what to see in Southern Italy.