The Temple of Hera I, also known as the Basilica, is an archaic Doric temple from c. 550 BCE. The temple is located in the ancient city of Paestum.

The name Basilica is a 18th century invention, but it is still in common use.

The Temple of Hera I is the first known temple to be build in Poseidonia, where it was constructed within a century after the foundation of the city. It has been dated to c. 550 BCE based on stylistic considerations.

The temple was a part of a larger enclosed sanctuary to Hera, a Heraion, that also encompassed the later Temple of Hera II and several minor temples and altars.

The Building

Plan of the Temple of Hera I in Paestum
Plan of the Temple of Hera I

The building is of the doric order, build in local sandstone and measuring c. 24.5×53.3m. As all Greek temples it is oriented E.-W. with the entrance to the E.

The temple is peripteral with 9×18 columns on a three step stylobate. All 50 columns of the peristyle, including the architraves, have survived, making it one of the best preserved archaic doric temples in the world. The upper parts of the entablature have all been lost, except a few remnants of the frieze backers.

The frieze has completely disappeared, but it is certain that there haven’t been any carved metopes on the temple, as not even one single fragment has been found inside the entire city. It is likely that the metopes have been undecorated or painted.

The entasis of the columns is very pronounced, as is normal for archaic doric columns, which leads to the early dating of the edifice. Another factor in dating the temple is the shape of the echinus. The more curved it is, the more archaic the structure.

Just under the echinus the columns has a decorative band of flowers, now hardly visible from the ground, but it has probably been painted in bright colours. Three columns close to the SW. corner has a second band of more elaborate decorations, but why they are different is now known.

The pronaos has three columns in antis. All three columns are in situ, as are the antae, the extremities of the lateral walls of the cella. The antae has small scrolls under the underside of the capitals, which is a trait found only in Sybaris and on the N. part of the Peloponnesian Peninsula, where the founders of Sybaris came from.

From the porch a double doorway leads into the cella or naos.

The external walls of the naos have all but disappeared, probably taken away by lime burners after the city was abandoned. Only the foundations can be seen. The naos is divided into two parts by a series of seven columns placed in the centre of the room. Three columns are still in situ, and two capitals lie on the ground.

Behind the naos is an adyton, a room used for storing the values of the temple. This room had earlier been a back porch, opisthodomos.

The roof had a wooden substructure, covered with tiles. Nothing remains, but the holes for the wooden beams can be seen on the inside of the architraves. The eaves of the roof was brightly coloured terracotta antefixa in the form of palmettes. Numerous fragments of the terracotta decorations have been found around the temple, many of which can be seen in the Archaeological Museum. A painted female torso, likewise in the Museum, might have embellished a corner of the roof.

The Temple of Hera I, 550 BCE, in Paestum
The Temple of Hera I, 550 BCE, in Paestum

The Temple of Hera I is unusual in several ways.

It is the only temple in Italy with a naos divided in two by columns. The only other known Greek temples with a divided naos are found in Crete, at Dreros and Prinià, but in both cases the dividing columns were of wood on stone bases. The Cretan temples are the oldest Greek temples known, so this similarity confirms the dating of the Temple of Hera I.

The reason for this division of the central room of the temple is disputed. It could mean that the temple had a double dedication, which would probably have been to Hera and Zeus, but it could also just be for structural reasons, to support the roof. It could be both.

The division of the naos led to other unusual choices. The double entrance, the three columns for the pronaos and the uneven number of columns on the front were needed to maintain an axial design and a direct view from the outside into the naos.

The columns in the naos, the pronaos and the peristyle are all of the same dimensions, which is also unusual. The internal columns are normally smaller than those of the peristyle. Why this is so is not known.

The Cult

The dedication to Hera (Juno) is confirmed by votive gifts, mostly small female terracotta statues carrying the greek letters ΗΡ or ΗΡΑ.

The votive gifts from the worshippers were regularly buried in special consacrated pits close to the temple. These stipe are a valuable source of information about the cult its dating.

Paestum - Temple of Hera I
Paestum – Temple of Hera I

Just in front (E.) of the temple was a huge altar, made of blocks of limestone, extending the entire breath of the temple and accessed by lateral stairs. Here offerings to the deity would be made. The general public had no access to the enclosed parts of the temple, so public rituals had to be performed outside the temple.

The meat of the sacrificial animals was eaten, and the bones thrown in a bothros, a special pit for leftovers, just S. of the altar.

The cult of the Temple of Hera I continued, even after the construction of the nearby Temple of Hera II, dedicated to the same goddess, and after the Lucanian and later Roman conquests.

In late antiquity, when Paestum was in decline and the pagan cults came to an end, the Temple of Hera I was abandoned to the forces of nature and to the ubiquitous lime burners.

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