There is also a fine Museum at Paestum
There is a fine museum at Paestum – it is a ‘National’, not a local museum – but it is not what it appears to be.
Somehow one expects that a museum at Paestum should be a museum whose primary purpose is to illustrate the sites at Paestum itself and to provide all the background information from the temples. But it is not like that at all – in fact there is very little material that comes from the temples as they have survived so well that have never needed to have major excavations. Instead let me tell you whole background story of the two big discoveries which provide the glories of the Paestum museum.
It all began in the 1930s when excavations were undertaken at a site five miles or 50 stades (furlongs) to the north at the mouth of the River Sele. Both Strabo and Pliny report that there was a splendid temple at the mouth of the River Sele, though they disagree as to which side of the river it was. However in the Middle Ages the lime burners moved in, and the temples were pulled down and the columns burnt for lime, so that nothing remained above ground and the site was lost.
However in the 1930s, two Italian archaeologists discovered the site. They also had the good luck to discover some rather battered sculptures, which though battered were stylistically very early, dating to the 6th century, earlier than anything at Paestum itself.
These sculptures needed to be displayed and so in 1952 a splendid museum was built to display them.
But this is not the end of the story. In the 1950s some splendid new tombs were discovered in the hinterland of Paestum, many of them with painted wall paintings, with one in particular – the diver’s tomb – being one of the best examples of 5th century painting. These too were brought into the museum and a new hall was added at the back to display the tomb paintings, the best of which we illustrate here.
There are many finds from Paestum itself, including some fine Roman material, and there are a lot of finds from the tombs in the vicinity of Paestum. Go up to the first floor and you can see some of the Roman material, but go up to the second floor and another delight awaits you: one of the finest collections of Prehistoric pottery, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age in southern Italy. Some of the Neolithic finds are illustrated here.
Let us enter the museum
29th November 2012