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Stunning New Discoveries at Ancient Greek City of Paestum in Italy

Ancient Greek City of Paestum
Paestum contains three of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples in the world, including the two Hera Temples above. Credit: Oliver-Bonjoch , CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

Archaeologists digging in southern Italy at the ancient Greek city of Paestum, first named Poseidonia, after the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, have uncovered a trove of historical treasures in a temple.

The treasures include a statue of the Greek god of love Eros, terracotta bullheads, and dolphin statues.

Tiziana D’Angelo, the Director of the Paestum archaeological site, told ANSA the dig was set to “change the recorded history of ancient Poseidonia”.

This is the most significant find at the site and has revealed a previously unknown set of religious practices that date back to the fifth century BC, she said.

A terracotta figurine of Eros riding a dolphin. Credit: Paestum Velia Archeological Park

The temple where the discoveries were made is also a relatively new find, having only been discovered in 2019. Archaeologists were forced to pause excavations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The newly discovered temple is a structure that measures 15.6 meters by 7.5 meters and has four columns in front and seven on the sides. It is in the Doric order but it is distinguished by the purity of its shapes.

The bullheads were found around a temple altar, leading archaeologists to believe that the city’s religion involved animal sacrifice.

The bull was often used as a symbol of the Minotaur and, as is likely in the case of this temple, a symbol of the Greek god Zeus.

The ancient Greek city of Paestum and its temples

Ancient Romans controlled the city by around 275 B.C., renaming it Paestum from the Greek “Poseidonia,” in what had before been Magna Graecia.

Like so many other Greek colonies across the Mediterranean world, it thrived for many centuries. Even after it was subsumed into the Roman Empire, its inhabitants retained their Greek language and culture.

The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three ancient Greek temples of the Doric order, dating from about 600 to 450 BC, which are in a very good state of preservation.

The temples include the Temple of Hera, which was constructed between 560 and 520 BC, and the Temple of Athena, which dates back to 500 BC. The Temple of Neptune, on the other hand, was not finished until 460 BC.

The city walls and amphitheater are largely intact, and the bottom of the walls of many other structures remain, as well as paved roads.

Paestum, around 60 miles (95km) away from today’s Naples, is also famous for the fresco of a young male diving into an unknown sea engraved upon the lid of his tomb.

The fresco, showing the deceased man inside the tomb as a diver, his body gracefully arcing down to the water, is one of the great masterpieces of ancient art.

Created around the year 470 BC, experts believe it is the only example of Greek painting with figured scenes dating from the early Archaic or Classical period to survive in its entirety.

Related: Corinthian Ship from 7th Century BC Found in Magna Graecia, Italy

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