Paestum; The Magic and Magnificence of the Magna Grecia.

Temple of Neptune
Guide book at the ready! We bought these fab hats at the gift shop! Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

 

You have been to Rome and seen the ruins and remnants of ancient Roman civilizations piled bit by bit on top of each other until they sometimes seem to blur into a vague category in your consciousness entitled “Ancient Roman History”.

As you whiz through Rome amongst the crazy traffic and high speed buzzing scooters, you can get lost in a world dating back to before Christ when gladiators were rock stars and Roman emperors and their courts were living, breathing reality shows.

You love history but it gets a bit crazed and overwhelming at times doesn’t it?

Chris at the Temple of Athena
Chris at the Temple of Athena. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

This is why you need to visit Paestum.

Nestled along the coast among farmlands sprouting olives, artichokes and the famous buffalo (mothers of the creamy delightful mozzarella da bufala that gracefully crowns the best pizzas on the planet) you will find an ancient archeological treasure containing the best preserved Greek ruins in the world.

Paestum not only features miraculously preserved Greek temples (The temples of Hera, Athena and Neptune) but is an entire ancient Greek city laid out exactly as it was 500 years before Christ.

Ancient Road
Ancient Road in Paestum. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

As you wander this ancient city looking at the temples, the marketplace, the gymnasium with its grand pool, and the houses still containing the mosaic tiled floors, you can blink and suddenly find yourself back in that time period.

You can see the columns and loggia (columned walkways) bordering the government buildings and marketplace. You can hear the voices of the vendors in the market selling wine, fruits and vegetables cultivated nearby, and fish just pulled from the sea. You can smell the food being cooked to purchase and take away and the bread baked in the early morning hours in time to be sold fresh at the market later in the day.

Ancient loggia
Ancient columns. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

It is a perfect snapshot of history still fresh although it existed almost 2,500 years ago.

Bonnie Chris and Barbara
A perfect morning walk through Paestum. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Paestum was founded at the mouth of the Sele River by the Achaeans (from Achaea in the area of the Peloponnese in Greece) who had originally landed in Sybaris  (across the Italian boot on the coast of the Ionian Sea) but fled from there in about 600 B.C and found their way here. *

Before the Roman Empire took over the vast majority of Europe and ultimately parts of Africa and Egypt, the Magna Grecia was in full flower.

The Magna Grecia started in the 8th and 7th centuries BC and covered much of the southern areas of Italy’s famous boot including areas in Campania, Baslilcata, Calabria, Apulia and Sicily.

Wild flowers
Spring flowers and Greek temples. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Settlers from Greece began arriving on these coasts bringing with them the Hellenic culture, philosophies, agriculture and the basics of Greek civilization.

And Paestum was one of the beautiful Magna Grecian cities that was born at that time nestled within its defensive stone walls running along the banks of the Sele River and the crystal blue Tyrrhenian Sea.

A visit to Paestum today is a short and beautiful train ride south from Naples or north from Reggio Calabria.

Swimming pool
The community swimming pool at Paestum. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

From our village of Santa Domenica Talao, it is an hour and a half of gorgeous scenery as you wind your way along the glorious coast to the shady avenue that leads you directly from the Paestum train station into the archeological park.

Trip hazards
Watch for falling Chrises! Beware trip hazards! Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

As soon as you arrive within the walls that protected this ancient Greek city, you can see outlines of walkways and buildings and in one glorious sweep you take in the magnificent temple of Neptune (or Poseidon if you are an ancient Roman) rising up and glowing pinkish gold in the Tyrrhenian sunshine.

Temple of Neptune
Interior of the magnificent Temple of Neptune. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

How to Best Explore Paestum

Most visitors see Paestum in Spring, Summer or Fall. At any of these times the weather can be quite hot and humid making it challenging to see all of the park and the museum.

Paestum museum
Paestum museum with Bonnie, Chris and Barbara. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

The best way to see Paestum is to arrive as early in the morning as you can and explore the city before the heat of the afternoon sun chases you inside.

Delle Rose
Ristorante Delle Rose. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Take a break at lunch and have a fantastic meal at the Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose which is on the corner of the tree lined street filled with gift shops that runs the length of the park.

Normally I do not recommend eating anywhere near monuments and attractions but Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose seems to be an exception to that rule. We had an amazing meal with fresh pasta and fish dishes at a great price. The service despite the busy lunch crowd, was warm and efficient.

artifact lion bowl
Lion miniature Paestum Museum. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

After your refreshing lunch, head over to the air conditioned museum to see the myriad of artifacts that have been unearthed and put on display.

It is amazing that these every day items are so perfectly preserved giving us a glimpse of a long ago civilization as though we were looking in the shop windows alongside the people who lived there at that time.

rain gutter Paestum
Ancient Greek rain gutter. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Beyond the miraculously preserved Greek temples and the historical snapshot of a bustling city, Paestum is a place that has a very special feel. It is a place of unrivaled aesthetic and spiritual expansion that mortal words cannot really describe.

In short, Paestum has to be experienced to fully understand the inherent beauty, not only of the remnants of a magnificent civilization but of the very civilization that sired it.

Chris Paestum
Chris on the road to ruins. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Southern Italy, the home of the Magna Grecia is a treasure chest of Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan civilizations and artifacts. It is also home to some of the most magnificent beaches and glorious stretches of coastline on the planet.

Super Savvy Travelers are Southern Italy experts. We have a home here and spend our waking hours exploring and learning about all aspects of this spectacular region that has been completely ignored by travel guidebooks and is only now being discovered by Savvy Travelers and culinary experts.

The diver
Paestum The Diver. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Call us if you want to visit this dazzling region. We will set up a trip that you will never forget.

* Historical data gleaned from Guide Arte”m Paestum The archaeological park, the museum/temple of Hera Argiva” and Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

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.