An unusual note here at the start. Please make some comment today as you read this. I don't care what it is. You can even just say, "I'm here." but I would really like to know who is reading this.
I often forget that southern Italy was Greek territory during their glory days. The Greeks had trade routes all over the Mediterranean and also needed territory to send their growing populations. Southern Italy was the perfect spot. One of the best for us today is the town of Paestum on the coast a few miles south of Salerno and a two-hour drive from our base in Sorrento. It is reputedly the best site for Greek ruins in Italy outside of Sicily.
|One of half a dozen artists we saw. It must have been a workshop.|
It was raining when we arrived so we started in the museum, a beautiful modern building with plenty of signs in English to help us understand what we were looking at. The first room we entered, really the centerpiece of the museum is for temporary displays. Currently, the show is about colors used to paint the sculptures and buildings. Excellent explanations of how they created and applied the colors along with samples of reproductions made for an interesting show. Some of the reproductions were created with a 3-D printer, a useful use of this brand-new technology. This was accompanied by an explanation of the colors’ symbolism. For example, the discussion about green points out that while today, we think of green in association with nature, for the Greeks, green was just one of the four elements of nature representing water. The other three were air (white), earth (black), and fire (red). Green’s unstable nature as a paint also meant that it represented a lack of stability and ambivalence.
The rest of the ground floor houses the relics found at Paestum and other sites nearby. One of the most interesting was the nine vases in perfect condition found at Paestum. They were filled with honey that was still in perfect condition protected by the vases and the beeswax seal. At least some of the honey was left to crystallize and become part of the display.
After about an hour in the museum we headed outside.The timing was perfect as the sun was out and the afternoon light highlighted the beauty of the temples. We started with the Temple of Ceres – wait – it is really the Temple of Athena. The discoverers assumed that this temple would be about agriculture, but when modern archaeologists began really digging they kept finding a woman with a big helmet, Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. Local stones were used in the building of the town. It was the Romans who built the road system that would have allowed more distant stones to be brought here. The interior of this temple was, however, plundered and used in the building of Amalfi’s cathedral. The interior was also used as a Christian church in the 6th century.
The other two temples devoted to Neptune (maybe) and Hera are at the opposite end of town. The Temple of Hera built around 550 BC is one of the oldest anywhere. The Temple of Neptune built 100 years later shows a somewhat different style with fewer columns and those columns adorned with slightly more stylish capitals. All three temples are oriented east-west with the actual alters on the east side since only priests were allowed to enter.
|Temple of Neptune|
|Temple of Hera|
|Temple of Hera in the foreground|
We saw a pool that perhaps was dedicated to Fortuna Virilis, goddess of luck and fertility. Next to the pool is the forum, a large grassy area (today) in the middle of town. To either side of the road we could walk through the remains of houses and businesses. While wondering we met a nice couple from Naples who exhorted us to visit Sicily on our next trip. We also met a family with two high school exchange students, one from Ohio and the other from Brazil. The Ohioan was eager to share his experiences as a traveler with us and proud of his newly acquired Italian language skills. They will live here for one full year before returning home. Meanwhile the family’s daughter is living in South Carolina for the year. It’s good to see these youngsters getting a taste of the rest of the world.
After completing our tour of Paestum, we found our way to the beach where the Allies landed in 1943. Having already taken Sicily, this was the next step up the Italian Peninsula. They stopped in Paestum and used the House of Neptune for a field hospital. Amazingly they treated the place with the respect it deserved. We saw no evidence of soldierly graffiti. From here the soldiers would head north to the famous battles at Monte Cassino and another landing at Anzio as they drove the Germans back towards Germany. Unlike the beaches at Normandy, there are no monuments here at all. Perhaps it is just too overshadowed by the more famous landing at Normandy, or perhaps it has something to do with an Italian ambivalence towards the war. Italy surrendered soon after the invasion although elements of the Italian army continued to fight on with the Germans and the Germans fought tenaciously to maintain their hold on their erstwhile ally.
What we did find at the beach was a lovely long stretch of sand with many camping areas and some resorts that looked nice enough to merit five stars from anyone. The place must be absolutely overrun with tourists in August as Italians make their way to the beach or mountains to escape the heat of the summer.