Parco Archeologico di Paestum
On the edge of the Sele plain, where Cilento begins, lies Paestum, one of the most precious archaeological jewels in Italy’s crown, famous throughout the world, in particular for its spectacular Doric temples. According to legend it was founded by the Argonauts, but in reality it was established around the year 600 B.C. by the Greeks of Sybaris, who called it Poseidonia. Since its foundation the urban space was divided into sacred, public and private areas. The central strip of the city was set aside for public use: the sanctuary of Athena was located in the northern part, the agorà in the centre, and the sanctuary of Hera in the southern part.
Only in the final decades of the 6th century B.C. were the roads roughly laid out and the first boundary wall perhaps built. Between 530 and 450 B.C. major architectural programmes were implemented, with the construction of the Doric temples, still standing in all their splendour today. At the end of the 5th century B.C. Poseidonia was defeated in war by the Lucani, a people of Samnite stock who ousted the Greeks to govern the city. This conquest did not lead to any substantial modifications to the urban layout, but it was at this time that Poseidonia changed its name to Paestum.
In 273 B.C. Rome, having defeated the Lucani, created a Latin colony at Paestum. The transformation of the political set-up led to radical changes in the organisation of the public space: the forum with the sacred and public buildings of the Latin colony was established in the southern part of the agorà. The monuments of the Imperial Age give an impression of Paestum as a provincial city with limited building activity, which already at the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. was on its way to a slow and inexorable decline. This decline began with the fall of the Roman Empire. Its buildings were plundered for materials to build churches and palaces, and the ruins were forgotten until the eighteenth century, when travellers began to venture here once more.
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