Ever heard of Paestum?
I’ve done some traveling, but would not necessarily consider myself a “world” traveler. Like, I’ve never been to Africa or Asia or the Middle East, or even to Hawaii or South America. I consider myself relatively informed when it comes to Europe, but again, I’m no expert on antiquity or the ancient ruins of Rome and Greece (haven’t been to Greece either). So, it should not be surprising that I had never heard of Paestum until we agreed to go on a trip with friends to Italy. I plead supreme ignorance…Paestum is quite a famous place and was considered a stop on Europe’s Grand Tour (Who knew? I didn’t!).
Once Paestum became a definite part of our trip itinerary, I familiarized myself (somewhat) with what to expect. I did this mostly by viewing aerial imagery on Google Earth as well as photos that are viewable on Google Earth posted by folks that have been to Paestum and uploaded images on Panoramio. (Not to get sidetracked, but Google Earth is an amazing bit of software and is relatively easy to use for zooming around the world and viewing places you’ve been or only dreamt of visiting. Download the free software right now!) And, one of our fellow travelers did have a photo book with some great pictures. But nothing could prepare me, or anyone, for actually being there.
Have you ever heard of Paestum?
Simply put, Paestum is the site of three of the most well-preserved ancient Greek temples in the world. We’re talking really ancient. Like 450-550 BC. Surely, the oldest man-made structures I have ever seen (easily older than the buildings in the Roman Forum). These temples are believed to outdate the Parthenon and, in fact, may have served as architectural models for the Parthenon.
To view these incredible pieces of architecture in what I consider an idyllic setting — parklike and not crowded — was a memorable experience. We visited twice, first on the afternoon of our day of arrival and then again the next day. Both days had admirable weather, not too hot as is likely later in the summer, but the second day was much brighter with great blue skies.
What is just as breathtaking, only in an altogether different manner, are the artifacts removed from the site and contained in the park’s adjoining National Museum. Inside are incredibly masterful sculptures, pottery, and frescoes. The most famous of the frescoes is from the wall of a tomb. Called the Tomb Diver, or Tomb of the Diver, the frescoe depicts a solitary man diving from what is known (represented by columns) into the unknown (represented by the sea). It is an incredible piece of artistry and gives insight into the beliefs of this ancient civilization.
This next photo shows how a tomb looks with painted walls and ceiling.
Here is a krater, or vase, portraying the rape of Europa, in a masterpiece of black figure pottery.
And, here is a figure from the Temple of Hera. I believe this is a carving of Hercules accomplishing some feat of strength or heroism.