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Temple of Athena at Paestum
Temple of Athena at Paestum

Paestum, or Poseidonia, is an ancient Greek, and later Roman city. It is famous for its Greek temples, generally recognised as being the best preserved doric temples in the world. It is located on the coastal plains S. of the Amalfi coast, some 80 km S. of Naples.

Paestum is the Roman name of the city. The original Greek name was Poseidonia.

Only a fraction of the original extension of the city has been excavated, just around the ancient city centre with the temples and public buildings. The major parts of the area is privately owned and has never been examined.

Paestum and the surrounding area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Poseidonia was founded around 600 BCE, probably as a colony of Sybaris, which was a flourishing city on the Ionian Sea. The city was the northernmost Greek settlement in Italy, just 8 km from the River Sele that formed the borderline between Greek and Etruscan domination.

The city was originally located near the coastline, close to the mouth of a small stream, but there was no good, natural harbour nearby. The closest good harbours were at the mouth of the River Sele to the N. (where a Heraion, a sanctuary to Hera, has been found) and Agropolis 8 km to the S. It is likely that sailors have hauled their boats onto the beach if they haven't used the more distant anchorages north and south.

What the site lacked sea-wise it had towards the hinterland. The land was fertile, water was abundant and important inland trade routes connected the city to the Greeks cities to the south and to the Etruscan cities to the north. The city grew on a combination of agriculture and trade.

Map of Paestum with indications of the excavated areas
Map of Paestum with indications of the excavated areas

The outline of the city was determined from the beginning. The city sits on an elevated shelf of travertine that defines the somewhat irregular perimeter of the town, and defensive walls were erected around the entire area. These walls stretch for about 5 km with four major gates coinciding with the cardinal directions and several towers.

This article has been split into 8 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. Poseidonia - The Greek City
  3. The Lucanian Conquest
  4. Paestum - The Roman Colony
  5. Decline and Disappearance
  6. Rediscovery of the City
  7. Literature and links
  8. Photographs

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This page is linked under the names "Paestum" and "Poseidonia".

Copyright © 2005 René Seindal, last changed 2005-06-04

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