One of Italy’s most haunting and evocative ancient sites

THE BEST-KNOWN archaeological site near Naples is Pompeii, 25 kilometres southeast of the city. But it (and Herculaneum, 11 kilometres southeast of Naples; both destroyed by the volcano Vesuvius in A.D. 79) aren’t the only significant ruins in the area. The remains of Paestum (98 kilometres southeast of Naples) “constitute one of Italy’s most haunting and evocative ancient sites” says the 4th edition of the Rough Guide to Naples, Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast.

Rough Guide to Naples, Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast, 4th edition

Founded by the Greeks in the sixth century B.C., it was later taken over by the Romans, who changed its name from Poseidonia. “A dramatic, windswept place,” says the guidebook, adding that the poet Shelley found it “inexpressibly grand.” Unlike Pompeii and Herculaneum, which both disappeared virtually overnight, Paestum endured until the ninth century, when its river silted up, creating a bog suited to malaria-bearing mosquitoes, and Saracen raiders hit the city repeatedly. Abandoned, its site was gradually overtaken by thick forest, to be rediscovered only in the 18th century.

Alongside of its “mostly unrecognizable ruins” stand “three golden-stoned temples that are among the best-preserved Doric temples in Europe.” The oldest, dedicated to Hera, was built around 550 B.C. and retains its double row of columns. The most complete is the Temple of Neptune, from about 450 B.C., “with only its roof and parts of the inner walls missing.” The third, the Temple of Ceres, was used for a time as a church.

The “splendid” Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Paestum ( , across the road from the site, has metopes, helmets, breastplates, tomb paintings and “some stunning bronze vases.”