Origins and historical notes of one of the most beautiful cities of Magna Graecia.
Founded by the Greeks around 600 BC, it was initially called Poseidonia, from Poseidon, or Neptune, god of the sea, to whom the city was dedicated. Between 400 and 273 BC it was occupied by the Italic population of the Lucanians. In 273 it became a Roman colony with the name of Paestum. But there is no doubt that the foundation of the city was preceded by the installation of a commercial farm on the left bank and near the mouth of the Silaros river and that the malarial conditions of the land then induced the primitive settlers to move the inhabited center towards the east, on a bank slightly raised limestone on the plain and on the coast, along the course of another minor river (river Salso or Capofiume). From the primitive layout on the Silaros, the sea and river port of the city developed and the Temple of the Argive Era was built near it, which soon became one of the largest and most revered sanctuaries of ancient Italy: about 50 stadiums separated the city from the Heraion and the his emporium on the river. The end of the Roman Empire roughly coincided with the end of the city. In fact, around 500 AD, following an epidemic of malaria, aggravated by the unhealthiness of the area, the inhabitants gradually abandoned the city. The rediscovery of Paestum dates back to 1762, when the modern road that still crosses it was built.
The most important Greek colonies in the Mediterranean were those founded in Asia Minor and Magna Graecia, a term that indicates the set of cities founded by the Greeks in southern Italy and Sicily, one of which was precisely Paestum. Motherland of Paestum was Sibari, founded in 720 BC. by Achaeans and Trezeni, who were therefore called sybarites. The latter were famous for wealth, luxury and pride. The historian Diodorus Siculus, of the first century. BC, wrote that “the sybarites were slaves of the belly and lovers of luxury”. Stradone, a Greek geographer who lived between 60 and 20 BC, says that the Sybarites had created a fortified settlement near the mouth of the Sele River, extending their influence over the neighboring territories. We are at the turn of the seventh and sixth centuries. B.C. The foundation of the city was due to the need that Sibariti had to open a trade route between the Ionian and the Tyrrhenian through the Apennine ridge, avoiding the circumnavigation of the Calabrian coast and the Strait of Messina.
The colony, located in a strategic point, at the center of the intersection of trade routes between the Ionian basin and the Italian regions, was called Poseidonia in honor of Poseidon, god of the sea. It was in 510 BC, following the destruction of Sibari by the Crotonese, when many sybarites fled to Poseidonia with their wealth, their experience and their spirit of enterprise, that the city reached a high level of economic and political power. The construction of the three temples known as the Basilica, the temple of Poseidon and the temple of Ceres dates back to this period, coeval with the only Greek fresco discovered so far, in the tomb of the Diver. In the 5th century BC. the Lucanians, an Italic people, began to infiltrate the colony, leaving numerous testimonies of their influence in tombs frescoed according to the model of the Greek masters. At the end of the fourth century, allying themselves with the bruzi, they supported a long struggle against the Greeks for the dominion of the new territories towards the sea, which ended with the reaffirmation of their supremacy over the city.
In 273 BC, the Romans occupied Poseidonia which thus became the faithful Roman Paestum, which proved to be close to Rome even in the most dramatic moments of its history. During the Roman period, in the third century, economic and cultural activities flourished again: new public buildings were built, such as the amphitheater, the forum and the gymnasium, which contributed to giving the city that aspect that excavations have brought to light. Among the factors that led to the decline of Paestum, the construction of new roads for trade in the East, which ended up irremediably isolating the city from the main trade routes, and the 9th century malaria epidemic, combined with the raids of Saracen pirates, that forced the people of Pestano to take refuge in the mountains, and to abandon the ancient Poseidonia.