Ancient Greek temple discovery sheds light on ancient Paestum

Ancient Greek temple discovery sheds light on ancient Paestum
The temple discovered during excavations in ancient Paestum. Photo: Archaeological Park of Paestum and Velia
A temple was recently discovered during excavations in ancient Paestum in southern Italy. In the temple, a treasure trove of artifacts was unearthed, containing new information about ancient rituals.

Magna Graecia, or southern Italy today, is home to Paestum, a significant ancient Greek city on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast. Originally settled by Greek colonists under the name Poseidonia, the city was an important trading port and religious center.

Paestum’s three Archaic Doric temples, dating between 550 and 450 BC, were famous throughout antiquity. The Temple of Hera is the oldest of the three temples, built around 550 BC. It is sometimes called a Basilica, based on a mistake by earlier archaeologists who thought it was a Roman public building. The dedication of this temple is certain thanks to the inscriptions to Hera in the temple. The Temple of Neptune, (or Apollo or Hera II) dates from 450 BC and is the most complete of the three – everything remains intact except the roof and parts of the interior walls. Temple of Athena (or Temple of Ceres) was built around 500 BC, in a transitional style between the Ionic and early Doric periods. It was later used as a Christian church.

The local Lucanians subsequently overran the city, and later the growing Roman Republic, which changed the city’s name to Paestum. The town, then known as Pesto or Paestum, was named a bishopric (now titular), but in the Early Middle Ages it was abandoned.

Terracotta figurines, human and animal statuettes. Photo: Archaeological Park of Paestum and Velia

Now according to Heritage Daily reports, excavations previously planned for 2019 but postponed due to the COVID pandemic have uncovered a fourth temple along the city’s western walls. The doric-style temple has a stone foundation and a holy sanctuary. The terracotta figurines discovered by archaeologists include a dolphin statuette made by the Avili family of ceramicists and representations of several deities and people. (The presence of the Avili family in Paestum has never been documented before.)

Several ceramic bull heads were found placed around the altar with grooves in the stonework to collect blood during religious rituals involving the sacrifice of bulls. The ministry believes that more treasures can be found in the region.

“The discovery of hundreds of statues and altars in the small temple of Paestum confirms the extraordinary value of this site”. said Gennaro Sangiuliano, the Minister of Culture.

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