SituationThe site of Paestum lies in southern Campania, in a plain nearby the Gulf of Salerno, a bay on the Tyrrhenian Sea. With its ruined temples and its cemeteries, this site possesses the finest remains of Greek architecture on the mainland of Italy.HistoryPaestum was founded by Greeks from Sybaris under the name of Poseidonia about 600 B.C. In the fourth century B.C. it passed into the hands of the Lucanians, and in 273 B.C. became a Roman colony.In the time of Augustus it already had a bad name for the malaria-ridden marshland which surrounded it, and after the devastation of the region by the Saracens in the ninth century its inhabitants abandoned the town, taking with them a relic of St Matthew which had according to tradition been preserved in Paestum since the fourth century, and founded a new settlement on the neighboring hills at Capaccio, of which Paestum with its few modern houses is now a part.The deserted town was despoiled of its columns and sculpture by the Norman leader Robert Guiscard, and thereafter was forgotten until the 18th century, when there was a revival of interest in classical Greek art.
The site of the ancient city of Paestum is enclosed by a magnificent circuit of town walls 4.75km/3mi long, with four gates and a number of towers (a walk round the walls is recommended for the fine views of the site and the sea).
In the center of Paestum, on the east side of the state road, is the Museum, with prehistoric material, painted pottery and fine metopes from the Temple of Hera on the Sele, north of Paestum, and the archaic Treasury, including Greek statues and pictures. Also to be seen are grave-paintings found in the nearby necropoli, as well as Greek statues and paintings.
Immediately south of the museum in Paestum, the state road cuts across the Amphitheater of the Roman period, the rounded end of which can still be distinguished. Some 300m/330yd farther south, on the right, is the entrance to the site, near the south side of the ancient city.
Cemeteries (Tomb Paintings)
Outside the town walls of Paestum three large cemeteries, with tomb paintings of the highest quality, have been discovered since 1968.On the south side are tombs of the fifth century B.C., the heyday of Magna Graecia, with frescoes in the style of the classical vase-painters ("Tomb of the Diver").To the north are 70 tombs dating from the fourth century (the period of Lucanian predominance) painted in vivid colors, with scenes from everyday life which throw fresh light on the discovery of color, of light and shade and of spatial representation in Western art.On the west side a cemetery was found, covering an area of 25,000 sq.m/29,900 sq.yd with thousands of third century tombs painted in a style which demonstrates that even during the Roman period southern Italy still belonged to the Greek (Hellenistic) cultural sphere.Altogether more than 500 tomb paintings have been discovered so far.
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