Paestum temples

The first Temple of Hera, built around 600 BC by Greek colonists, is the oldest surviving temple in Paestum. Eighteenth-century archaeologists named it “The Basilica” because they mistakenly believed it to be a Roman building. A basilica in Roman times was a civil building, not a religious one. Inscriptions revealed that the goddess worshiped here was Hera. Later, an altar was unearthed in front of the temple, in the open-air site usual for a Greek altar; the faithful could attend rites and sacrifices without entering the cella.
paestum14_IMG_0966Just south of the city walls, at a site still called Santa Venera, a series of small terracotta offertory molded statuettes of a standing female nude wearing the polos headdress of Anatolian and Syrian goddesses, which were dated to the first half of the sixth century BC, were found in the sanctuary; other similar ones have been excavated at other Paestum sanctuaries during excavations in the 1980s, but the figure is highly unusual in the Western Mediterranean. The open-air temenos was established at the start of Greek occupation: a temple on the site was not built until the early fifth century. A nude goddess is a figure alien to Greek culture before Praxiteles’ famous Cnidian Aphrodite in the fourth century: iconographic analogies must be sought in Phoenician Astarte and the Cypriote Aphrodite. “In places where the Greeks and Phoenicians came in contact with one another, there is often an overlapping in the persona of the two deities,” Rebecca Miller Ammerman has explained (Ammerman 1991), in identifying the cult at the site as that of Phoenician Astarte or Cypriot Aphrodite. In Roman times, inscriptions make clear, the cult was reserved to Venus.

The second Temple of Hera was built around 460–450 BC. It has been variously thought of as a temple dedicated to Poseidon. The Temple of Hera II has nothing in common with the first temple, reason being for its symmetrical style for its columns. Also every column does not have a normal 20 flutes on each column but it has 24 flutes. The Temple of Hera II also has a wider column and a smaller spacing for the placing of the columns. The temple was also found to be used to worship more than just Hera but also Zeus and another unknown god. There’s a legend where beings would go to the temple in hope to make love with the goddess and the belief on insuring pregnancy; Hera is also the goddess of childbirth. 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 they cut through the larger one to build a road to the forum. It is also possible that the temple was originally dedicated to both Hera and Poseidon; some offertory statues found around the larger altar are thought to demonstrate this identification.

paestum14_IMG_1007In the central part of the complex is the Roman Forum, thought to have been built on the site of the preceding Greek agora. On the north side of the forum is a small Roman temple, dated to 200 BC. It was dedicated to the Capitoline Triad, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.

To the north-east of the forum is the amphitheater. This is of normal Roman pattern, though much smaller than later examples. Only the western half is visible; in 1930 AD, a road was built across the site, burying the eastern half. It is said by local inhabitants that the civil engineer responsible was tried, convicted and received a prison sentence for what was described as wanton destruction of an historic site.

On the highest point of the town, some way from the other temples, is the Temple of Athena. It was built around 500 BC, and was for some time incorrectly thought to have been dedicated to Ceres. The architecture is transitional, being partly in the Ionic style and partly early Doric. Three medieval Christian tombs in the floor show that the temple was at one time used as a Christian church.

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