The ancient Greek city of Posidonia or Paestum in Magna Graecia.

Temples, Paestum, Magna Graecia, Ancient, Architecture
Temples at Paestum.

The city of Posidonia or Paestum

Paestum is a ruined site recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Campania region in the province of Salerno in Italy. The site belongs to the municipality of Capaccio. The place is situated in a plain about 35 km south of Salerno. It was built 2 km from the Mediterranean coast. This shows that the Greeks did not want to establish a port here as a trading base, but that they had the cultivation of the fertile soil in mind. It is protected behind a lagoon, where the harbour was probably located in former times. Paestum is bordered to the east and south by the Cilento Mountains. To the north, there is a natural barrier in the form of the Sele.


We trace the history of the city of Posidonia or Paestum, by medals and other ornaments found on the spot, from the earliest ages: first the Dorians (or, as P. Paoli supposes, the Etruscans) possessed the place, then the Sybarites, then the Samnites, and subsequently the Romans but no light whatever is; thrown on the aera of the foundation of the stupendous temples which appear in this View; nor is it on any other ground, than by a comparison of their style with that of the temples in Sicily and Attica, that they have been pronounced to be of Grecian origin.

This magnificent city was burnt and laid waste by the Saracens in the year 915; and Robert Guiscard, the Norman, completed its desolation in the following century, by transporting columns and marbles from hence (according to the Grecian fashion of the day), for the purpose of decorating the churches which he was employed in erecting. The circuit of its walls extend upwards of two miles and an half; the walls are built with large stones of irregular shapes, some square, others hexagonal some of them measure more than twenty feet in length; there are the remains of square towers, built at certain regular intervals; also of an inner wall, appearing to have been constructed for the purpose of rendering the defense of the place more effectual.

The entrances were four, of which that on the north is in the best state of preservation: the arch must have been upwards of fifty feet in heights: two bas-reliefs are remaining; one representing (as is supposed) a siren, the other a dolphin, not inappropriate symbols of a maritime people. On this side also are the ruins of an aqueduct that conveyed water to the town from the heights of Capaccio, whose situation may be distinguished in this View, rising over the temples on the right.

At a short distance from the western gate are the remains of some antique sepulchers, covered interiorly with an hard stucco, and embellished with paintings. Several vases and other curiosities of undoubted Grecian workmanship have been discovered here, and are now to be seen in the royal museum at Portici.

With regard to the architecture of the temples, the best information may be found in Mr. Wilkins’s valuable work on the Antiquities of Magna Graecia, where the detail of the parts, together with much general information, is given. Amongst other things, he draws a very interesting comparison between the proportions of these temples, and the most ancient of which we have elsewhere notice; that of Jupiter Panhellenius in AEgina, and the temple of Solomon at Jerusalem, of which an accurate description is afforded in the first book of Kings, c. vi.; both of the latter were founded in the eleventh century before the Christian aera, and those of Paestum at a date perhaps not very far distant; reasoning on this head, he says, “so great a resemblance will be found upon investigation “ to exist between them, as to afford a presumptive proof that the architects, “both of Syria and Greece, were guided by the same general principles in the “distribution and proportion of the more essential parts of their buildings.

The two temples usually bear the names of Neptune and Ceres, and the third building is called the Portico, and was probably destined for public meetings of the people.

Source: A picturesque tour of Italy, from drawings made in 1816-1817 by James Hakewill (1778-1843); Turner, J. M. W. (Joseph Mallord William). London: John Murray, 1820.