The temple of Neptune, or Hera (2)
The grandest, the last, and best preserved of temples at Paestum is the so called Temple of Neptune, though it was almost certainly dedicated, like the Basilica, to Hera.
This was recognised from the first as being the grandest of all the temples and it was therefore assumed in the eighteenth century that it must have been dedicated to the patron god of the city who was Poseidon, the god of the sea. The original Greek name for Paestum was Poseidonia, and the early coins have the image of Poseidon: Paestum is in fact the Roman name of the site. Poseidonia is the city of Poseidon whose Latin equivalent is Neptune and therefore it was named the Temple of Neptune. The dedication is almost certainly wrong as the terracotta votive figurines found in the sanctuary show female types normally identified as Hera. There is also an inscribed silver dish which declares ‘I am sacred to Hera: strengthen our bows’.
The view of the temple from the front shows that the entablature is complete. One often imagines that the pediment – the triangular spaced beneath the roof – would have been filled with statues, as in so many temples in Greece. However no traces of suitable statues have been found anywhere at Paestum and it is clear that the pediment was not carved.However it may have been painted, and would have given a rather different impression from its gaunt seriousness today.
This plan of the temple (from John Pedley’s book) differs from the Temple of Athena in its internal layout. At the front there is a comparatively small porch with only two columns, but there is an equal sized porch at the rear, the opisthodomus. However the great glory of the temple is the huge cella, with the double row of double columns, presumably to cater for a very large cult statue.
The interior of the Temple, showing the aisle that separated the outer colonnade (to the left) from the cella to the right. The walls of the cella have disappeared, but the internal columns still stand in their two-storied majesty.
Inside the cella, showing the double row of columns on either side. There must presumably have been a very large cult statue at the far end.
The plan of the Temple is almost identical to the plan of the Great Temple of Zeus at Olympia and it is generally assumed that it was in fact a deliberate copy with the two rows of columns down the cella. The temple at Olympia was dedicated in 438 BC, so presumably the temple at Paestum would have been dedicated a few years later. The temple at Olympia was planned by the architect Libon of Elis. Was the same architect employed here?
In front of the temple was a large altar and several smaller temples facing out onto the main road.
A final view of the temple from the other side, that is from the west showing its perfect preservation on all sides.
There was a fourth temple at Paestum, situated five miles to the north at the mouth of the River Sele. Nothing remains above ground though parts can be seen in a field, and there is a ‘Museo Narrante’ at the entrance.
Unlike the temples at Paestum itself this temple did have some carved figures, and these figures are now at the museum at Paestum. Let us go on to the museum to take a look at them.