Paestum and its temples are suddenly there, on the edge of a Tarmac road in a sunny field close to the sea, just across the street from a couple of cafes and a museum.
It all seemed unreal until we met the diver …
Suddenly it all made sense.
Here was a young, naked man mid-dive – no togas, no temples and no chariots. We knew him – he was the crucial link that made it real.
The stone slabs from the Tomb of the Diver are on display in the museum at Paestum alongside a video that tells the story of how they were found in 1968.
The frescoes were shut inside what looked like a well-sealed stone coffin about half a mile from the site’s famous temples. So sealed was the tomb that the colours and images on the inside were well protected for over two millennia.
The diver was painted on to the underside of the lid of the tomb and was created almost in the shadows of at least two of Paestum’s enormous temples – the Temple of Hera and the Temple of Ceres. Now he’s displayed not far from where he was found and given a new form of after-life, suspended for history in a modern museum and across endless technology.
It was hot the day we visited the stones of Ancient Poseidonia – so hot that my sun-bathing mind could do little more than enjoy having old father time and his ruins to ourselves.
Since the visit, and thanks to The Diver, I’ve layered in a little more knowledge. Here it is:
– The town was founded in 600 BC by the Greeks.
– The Romans took it over in 273BC and changed its name to Paestum.
– By then all three magnificent temples were over 500 years old.
– The first of the temples to be built, the Temple of Hera (goddess of fertility and sister and wife of Zeus), was constructed around 550BC.
Temple of Ceres
– The smallest temple Ceres (dedicated to the goddess Athena) was built slightly later but in the same century as the Temple of Hera.
– The grandest temple, the Temple of Neptune is one of the most complete Greek temples in existence and is dated at around 450BC.
– Experts suggest that all the temples may once have been brightly painted (this information thanks to an exhibition in the excellent museum in Paestum).
– Malaria and the Saracens drove out the Romans and the forests took over until the ruins were rediscovered in the 18th century.
Paestum is about an hour south of Salerno by road. We based ourselves in Salerno for the night where we stayed in the huge, Grand Hotel Salerno. A large, clean, comfortable, completely-tiled, sea-view room in January cost us Euro 100 and included breakfast.
Here is a link to the Paestum Museum site giving opening hours and rates.
Here is a link to the Grand Hotel Salerno.
Here is a link to a detailed academic paper on the Tomb of the Diver.
A clip of a modern, young Olympic diver – surely part of the link to Paestum
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2015