in Sorrento


History buffs will enjoy a visit to the ancient Greek city of Paestum in southern Italy. This archaeological site, one of the most fascinating stops on the Amalfi Coast, features three of the world’s most complete Doric temples, dating back to circa 600 to 450 BCE. The temples include the Basilica of Hera, the Temple of Athena, and, on the southern end of the site, the Temple of Neptune, which was built in 450 BCE and is considered the most well-preserved of Italy’s Greek temples.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Paestum is located in the Campania region, renowned for its exceptional cuisine. The site lies amidst a dense tourism zone that includes must-see locales such as Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Amalfi Coast, and Naples. While visiting, be sure to take in the dramatic coastline and explore other ancient sites, castles, and palaces in the area.

History of Paestum

Around the seventh century BCE, Greece began colonizing parts of southern Italy and Sicily, establishing colonies among the small, agrarian settlements. In the case of Paestum, Achaeans from Sybaris first built fortifications along the coast before moving inland to establish their city. Initially named “Poseidonia” in honor of Poseidon, the god of the sea, the city-state was strategically built on a fertile plain with access to a seaport.

Paestum experienced a significant population decline during the 2nd century BCE when its economic prosperity waned due to the construction of a new Roman highway that bypassed the city. In the late 1st century BCE, the city was further impacted by a series of earthquakes and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. These natural disasters severely compromised Paestum’s drainage system, leading to frequent floods and transforming the area into a swampy, mosquito-infested region. As a result, many residents fled to the hills to escape malaria, while others succumbed to Saracen raids.

Paestum was “re-discovered” in the 18th century, attracting poets and artists like Goethe, Shelley, Canova, and Piranesi, who visited and wrote about the ruins during the “Grand Tour.” Today, Paestum features an adjacent archaeological museum that houses collections of ancient artifacts, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich history. The old town and its remarkable ruins continue to be a significant attraction for history enthusiasts and tourists alike.

What to look out for when visiting Paestum

A trip to Paestum transports you back to an era that defies modern imagination. This ancient city offers a captivating experience through its three well-preserved temples, an amphitheater, and a cultural museum.

Temple of Hera: The Temple of Hera, the oldest of the three temples in Paestum, was built in 550 BCE. Initially mistaken by archaeologists for a Roman basilica, inscriptions within the temple later confirmed its dedication to Hera, the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth. The temple features an open-air altar, allowing worshippers to perform sacrifices without entering the cella (holy area).

Temple of Athena (or Ceres): Constructed in 500 BCE, the Temple of Athena showcases early Doric architectural features and was once believed to have been used as a Christian church. The site includes a typical Roman forum, surrounded by the foundations of various public and private buildings. Notably, in the 1930s, a civil engineer built a road across the northern half of this site, for which he was tried and sentenced for destruction.

Temple of Neptune: The Temple of Neptune, one of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world, remains almost completely intact except for its roof and some sections of the inner walls. This temple, built in 450 BCE, features impressive rows of columns, two altars, and statues indicating its dedication to Apollo, the god of archery, music, dance, prophecy, and healing.

Amphitheater: Located near the Temple of Athena, the amphitheater is a central element of the ancient town, partially buried by a modern road. Built in 500 BCE, this amphitheater is one of the oldest existing amphitheaters globally. It follows a typical Roman design, although only the western half is still visible today.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum: The museum houses the renowned Tomb of the Diver, constructed around 480 or 470 BCE. This tomb is famous for its plaster depiction of a man diving into a pool of water. The museum also showcases other tombs with intriguing depictions from the fourth century BCE, as well as artifacts such as terracotta figurines of goddesses, painted vases, and remnants of limestone metopes.

Paestum offers a unique glimpse into ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and travelers alike.

How to get to Paestum

How to Get to Paestum from Salerno or Naples

By Car:

  • From Salerno: Take the autostrada A3 motorway towards Battipaglia. Exit onto SS18 (the Paestum exit). The drive takes approximately 50 minutes.
  • From Naples: Follow the autostrada A3 motorway to Battipaglia and exit onto SS18 (the Paestum exit). The trip takes about an hour and a half.

By Bus:

  • From Salerno: Take the CSTP bus 34, which takes about an hour to reach Paestum.
  • From Naples: Frequent bus services are available, and the journey takes around 85 minutes.

By Train:

  • From Salerno: Take a local train for a 30-minute ride to Stazione di Paestum.
  • From Naples: Board a local train to Stazione di Paestum, with the journey taking about an hour and a half. Ensure it’s a local train that stops at the Paestum station.

From the Train Station:

  • Upon arrival at Stazione di Paestum, head west and walk approximately 15 minutes.
  • Cross through the gate in the old city wall (Porta Silena).
  • Continue straight until you see the ruins in front of you.

Paestum’s accessibility by car, bus, and train makes it a convenient destination for those traveling from Salerno or Naples, providing various options to suit different preferences and schedules.

The Paestum appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Sorrento!

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Visiting Paestum


8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.



Address: Paestum, SA, Italy
Duration: 4 hours
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