The temple of Athena
The first temple that one sees on entering the site is the so called Temple of Ceres, though it was almost certainly dedicated to Athena. Ceres is the goddess of corn, or of the harvest and in the eighteenth century the temple was wrongly attributed to her, but it should really be dedicated to Athena the goddess of wisdom and virtue.
Viewing the temple end on it is possible to see directly above the columns the row of metopes and triglyphs with one of the triglyphs still preserved (see below). In the major temples in Greece the metopes, the rectangular blocks between the triglyphs would have been decorated with carved figures, as notably in the Parthenon in Athens. However in southern Italy there is no marble occurring naturally and only coarse stones could be used for carving. In all three temples at Paestum therefore there were no carved figures, but one imagines that the metopes and the space above them would have been garishly painted.
Plan of the temple taken from John Griffiths Pedley’s book on Paestum in the splendid Thames and Hudson series. Note that though there is an elaborate porch and steps leading up to the Cella, where the cult statue would have stood, there is no rear porch – as it is often in early temples.
(Compare this with the plan of the later Temple of Neptune which has both front and rear porch)
The most remarkable feature of the interior arrangements is that the columns are in the Ionic style not the Doric style, whereas all the other exterior columns were in the severe Doric style with no basis to the columns and only a severe moulding at the top. The two interior columns were of the new Ionic style which was just coming into fashion around 500 BC with two scrolls on either side at the top of the column. This is one of the capitals preserved in the museum.
Because of this the temple is usually dated to around 500 BC when the change of style was taking place.
In front of the temple was the altar where the sacrifices took place. Greek temples differ from Christian churches in that whereas in a church the ceremonies are all enclosed and took place within the church, the Greek temple was essentially a store house where the statues of the gods were preserved to be brought outside for ceremonies. The main ritual took place outside in the altar in front of the temple which is where the sacrifices of animals took place. This was always a time of rejoicing, for after the sacrifice took place the animals were roasted, and the gods had enjoyed the smell of the roasting and had received a token offering of the meat, the meat was then cut up and distributed among the worshipers, who had a jolly good feast.
A view of the side of the temple. Note that the columns are all slightly curved in at the top. They are in fact slightly cigar shaped. This was a feature of the earliest temples intended to cause an optical illusion. It is more obvious in the next temple, the so called basilica.
The far (western) end of the temple. The entablature here is rather better preserved and it is possible to see the line of the metopes and the trigyphs where the main painted decoration would have been.There is also a very pronounced overhang of the roof shown below.
We end with this pretty picture of the temple and trees seen from the main part of the town to the south. But note that the temple is built on a slight rise in the highest part of the town. Temples to Athena were normally erected on the highest part of the town.
On to the oldest temple, the so called Basilica.