The most important colonies of Cilento arise between the seventh and sixth centuries BC. The visit to the two major archaeological sites, Paestum and Elea-Velia, unfolds like a sensory journey that leads on the roads of a glorious past. What emerges in Paestum in overtime Doric monuments such as the Temple of Neptune, the Basilica and the Temple of Ceres, actually dedicated to Athena, or in the rare frescoes handed down from the Greek painting, like those discovered in the Tomb of the Diver.
All around the elegant and majestic temples hovers a sense of remote mystery and you can admire the highest expression of the refined civilization of Sibariti, descendants of the Achaean Greeks, who founded Posidonia, became Paestum in Roman time. Abandoned in the eighth century AD for fear of the Saracen invasions, the rediscovery of its splendor is mainly due to the men of culture and of letters of various nationalities like Goethe, Shelley, Canova and Piranesi.
Today as then walk among the three impressive Doric temples, the Forum with the agora, the tabernee, the comitium, the poo , the amphitheater and the hypogeum sacellum, strikes awe and inspires admiration while visiting the National Archaeological Museum allows see the famous Tomb of the Diver, exceptional fresco handed down by the Greek painting. It’s exposed upstairs and is the only example of a tomb found so far painted chest in Paestum, consisting of the four side limestone slabs with banquet scenes, while the cover depicts a diving boy, a symbol of the landscape from life to death.
Less monumental but equally attractive are also the less flashy jewels of Elea-Velia, founded by the Phocaeans around the sixth century BC on a promontory jutting ancient sea near a source consecrated to the nymph Yele. A deep emotion remains to cross the streets along the walls and entering in the monuments of an ancient city that preserves almost intact its urban fabric.
From Velia started a road called “Via del Sale” that was used to trade in the product in the Velia lagoons and then marketed through its thriving port, repeatedly cited by Virgil. But the fame of the city around the classical world is linked to the philosophical school, designed by Xenophanes, and celebrated thinkers such as Zeno and Parmenides, that from ancient Elea radiated their knowledge throughout the Mediterranean. Very important was also the Medical School, whose medical doctrines and practices have perpetuated up in medieval times in the culture and tradition of the famous Scuola Medica Salernitana.
The whole city was architecturally designed superbly with its thermal baths and mosaics, public spaces and residential neighborhoods. But the masterpiece of engineering is almost hidden from view: it is Porta Rosa, the first example, majestic and perfect, of Western architecture that leverages the arch wedges. Do not miss the walk a bit ‘ tiring because sometimes steep climb up to the castle of Angevin to watch the sunset on the coast between the Marina di Ascea and that of Casal Velino. A curiosity : the streets here are paved in a particular way, with stones placed on edge to avoid, given the slope, slipping to wagons, animals and people.