Tuesday, 7 March 2017


“The Poseidonians forgot the Greek language, after being admixed with Tyrrhenians, Latins and other foreigners. Their only legacy was a Greek festival, with beautiful ceremonies, with lyres and flutes, with games and wreaths...” – Constantine Cavafy 

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Paestum was a major ancient Greek city on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Magna Graecia (southern Italy). The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three ancient Greek temples in the Doric order, dating from about 600 to 450 BC, which are in a very good state of preservation. The city walls and amphitheatre are largely intact, and the bottom of the walls of many other structures remain, as well as paved roads.

The site is open to the public, and there is a modern national museum within it, which also contains the finds from the associated Greek site of Foce del Sele. After its foundation by Greek colonists under the name of Poseidonia (Ancient Greek: Ποσειδωνία) it was eventually conquered by the local Lucanians and later the Romans. The Lucanians renamed it to Paistos and the Romans gave the city its current name.

As Pesto or Paestum, the town became a bishopric (now only titular), but it was abandoned in the Early Middle Ages, and left undisturbed and largely forgotten until the eighteenth century. Today the remains of the city are found in the modern frazione of Paestum, which is part of the comune of Capaccio in the Province of Salerno, Campania, Italy. The modern settlement, directly to the south of the archaeological site, is a popular seaside resort, with long sandy beaches.

Much the most celebrated features of the site today are the three large temples in the Archaic version of the Greek Doric order, dating from about 550 to 450 BC. All are typical of the period, with massive colonnades having a very pronounced entasis (widening as they go down), and very wide capitals resembling upturned mushrooms. Above the columns, only the second Temple of Hera retains most of its entablature, the other two having only the architrave in place. These were dedicated to Hera, Athena, and Poseidon (Juno, Minerva, and Neptune to the Romans), although previously they often have been identified otherwise, for example, as a basilica and a temple of Ceres (Greek Demeter), after eighteenth-century arguments.

The two temples of Hera are right next to each other, while the Temple of Athena is on the other side of the town centre. There were other temples, both Greek and Roman, which are far less well-preserved. Paestum is far from any sources of good marble. The three main temples had few stone reliefs, perhaps using painting instead. Painted terracotta was for some detailed parts of the structure. The large pieces of terracotta that have survived are in the museum.

The second Temple of Hera was built around 460–450 BC, just north of the first Hera Temple (seen in the back left of the photo). It was once mistakenly thought to be dedicated to Poseidon. The columns do not have the typical 20 flutes on each column, but have 24 flutes. The Temple of Hera II also has a wider column size and smaller intervals between columns.

The temple was also used to worship Zeus and another deity, whose identity is unknown. There are visible on the east side the remains of two altars, one large and one smaller. The smaller one is a Roman addition, built when a road leading to a Roman forum was cut through the larger one. It also is possible that the temple originally was dedicated to both Hera and Poseidon; some offertory statues found around the larger altar are thought to demonstrate this identification. 

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  1. That is beautiful. It's amazing how many of these are still dotted all over Italy.

  2. The one on the right looks in better shape than the Parthenon in Greece! Great find!

  3. So beautiful. Have you ever been to Nashville? They have a life size replica of a Parthenon. It's quite fascinating to see and get an idea of the size and what it might have looked like. That is interesting that they forgot their own language after mixing in with other cultures. I suppose the same has happened here in America.