Greek and Roman City of Paestum: Ancient Mediterranean Culture

This ancient panel depicts Greek men lounging on couches, listening to music, flirting with each other and drinking wine. My visit to Paestum was an astounding reminder of how old the culture of wine is in the Mediterranean.

Founded in 600 BCE as the Greek city of Poseidonia, Paestum was renamed by the Romans when they captured it in 273 BCE. It lasted for nearly 1,000 years until malaria and the end of the Roman Empire caused it to be abandoned.

The panel, below, from the Tomb of the Diver, depicts a Greek “Symposium” and is the only surviving example of wall painting from the Greek Archaic period (470 BCE).

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The Diver depicts the moment of death, diving into the unknown. At the museum, a panel explains that for the Greeks, the dive, out of control, through thin air, was symbolic of both orgasm and death.

When I left the museum and went out into the city, I found the Agora, the place where people gathered to listen to speakers and discuss issues. It was the center for political life in the city.
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The three temples are remarkably intact, having survived earthquakes, shifting sandy soil, wars and thousands of years of time. The Temple of Hera, wife of Zeus, in the foreground here, has 9 Doric columns across the front and 18 down the side. (550-450 BCE)

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Next to it, is the Temple of Poseidon (Neptune), god of the sea for whom the city was named. It is considered to be the best preserved Doric temple in all of Greece and Italy. Some scholars believe that the temple was actually dedicated to Apollo, God of Reason. (around 450 BCE)
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The last temple, on the highest point of the city, was dedicated either to Ceres, goddess of the harvest and hearth, or Athena, daughter of Zeus and goddess of reason. The Doric frieze in the pediment is a unique feature. (500 BCE)
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There are many other parts of the city along the roads that look surprisingly modern.
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And the ancient wall made of immense limestone blocks still surrounds the city.
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Paestum was surprisingly empty on the day I visited in late June. It is one of Italy’s hidden jewels. While thousands of tourists mob the Acropolis in Athens or the Colisseum in Rome, Paestum quietly sits by the sea. There is no development around, just long stretches of beach on either side.

The city is located an hour an a half south of Naples, just below Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast.
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The museum and site are open 9am-6:45pm, closed the first and third Mondays of the month.
A combination ticket for the site and museum as well as the ruins at Velia costs 11 euro and is valid for 3 days.

Sources:
http://www.infopaestum.it
http://www.paestumsites.it

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