The Doric Temples of Paestum in Capania, Italy

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James Martin

If you would like to see an ancient Greek city that's still partially standing, Paestum in southern Italy is worth a trip. Now an archaeological site featuring three of the world's most complete Doric temples from approximately 600 to 450 B.C., Paestum has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998.

Paestum is located in the southern Italian region of Campania, known for some of the best food in the country, and a subregion called the Cilento just south of the Amalfi coast. Paestum is in the middle of a dense tourism zone as Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Amalfi coast, and Naples are all nearby. Campania has a lot to do in a small area, from the dramatic Amalfi coastline to other ancient sites, castles, and palaces.

Getting to Paestum

If you are driving, use state highway SS18 to arrive in Paestum. From the autostrada A3 motorway, take Battipaglia exit toward SS18 and use the Paestum exit. It's approximately 50 minutes from Salerno and an hour and a half from Naples.

Paestum is also accessible by bus, with more frequent service available from Salerno or Naples. CSTP bus 34 in Salerno takes about an hour to Paestum, and from Naples, it's around 85 minutes to Paestum.

You can also take a train for about 30 minutes from Salerno or an hour and a half from Naples (make sure it stops at Stazione di Paestum). From the front of the station, head west, walking approximately 15 minutes through the gate in the old city wall (Porta Silena), and then continue until you see the ruins in front of you.  

The Magna Graecia and Roman Conquest

Greece started to expand into southern Italy and Sicily in the eighth century B.C. They then founded colonies among the small, agrarian settlements that were not organized well enough to defend themselves from the arrival of Greeks—in this case, Achaeans coming from Sybaris. Around 600 B.C. the Greeks settled in "Poseidonia," named in honor of the god of the Sea.

After the Romans conquered the south, they founded a Latin colony called Paestum here, but the population declined seriously in the Late Empire—some fleeing to the hills to avoid malaria, others falling in Saracen raids. Paestum was lost to the world by the 12th century, discovered by road crews in 1752, and "re-discovered" in the 18th centuries when poets like Goethe, Shelley, Canova, and Piranesi visited and wrote about the ruins while on the "Grand Tour."

Visiting the Paestum Excavations

Paestum has three of the best-preserved Doric temples in Italy: the Basilica of Hera, the Temple of Ceres, and, on the southern end of the site, the Temple of Neptune, built in 450 B.C.—the oldest and most preserved of Italy's Greek temples.

Paestum is currently on private land, which makes it difficult to administer and preserve. SavePaestum is a group trying to buy the lands for this reason. However, all guests can visit the ruins or the archaeological museum on the site. 

Staying in and Around Paestum

Since Paestum is near the sea, staying in the area can be made into a pleasant diversion for beach people. Vacation rentals are a popular choice in Paestum, and some fine, user-rated hotels are in the Cilento and Paestum, while some international chains sit close by, near the coast. Additionally, since Paestum is located in a foodie-rich part of the country, there are well-regarded dining options in the area including the popular seafood restaurant known as Ristorante Nettuno.

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