River Sele

The River Sele Sanctuary

Reconstruction drawing of the temple at the mouth of the River Sele.

Reconstruction drawing of the great temple at the mouth of the River Sele. It was a hekatompedon, that is 100-foot temple, the standard size for a large Greek temple.

There was a fourth temple at Paestum, but it is little known as it has been completely destroyed, and the site was only rediscovered in the 1930s. Nevertheless, it was in many ways the most important of all the temples.

Site of the temple at the mouth of the River Sele

The site of the temple, as seen from the upper floor of the Museum. The foundations of the temple lie in the field in the centre distance. (In the foreground are the silos of the former farmhouse).

The temple lay at the mouth of the River Sele – it is often known as being at the ‘Foce del Sele’ but unlike the three temples at Paestum itself, it was destroyed in the Middle Ages and was only rediscovered in the 1930s. However unlike the three well-known temples at Paestum, it was richly adorned with carvings: perhaps surprisingly, the temples at Paestum were all very plain, without any carvings.

Hercules and the cave appears, from the Temple at the mouth of the River safely

One of the carvings (metopes). This is in the earlier style and shows Hercules and the Cercopes. The Cercopes were mischievous but lovable lads who stole Hercules’ armour while he was sleeping. When he woke up he caught them and carried them off on a pole.

However the Sele temple was richly adorned, and what is more, the carvings were all early, of the sixth century, and are among the best-known early Greek sculptures. However the carvings are of two different styles, the more numerous being some 50 years earlier than the later ones.





Metope from the tempe at the mouth of the Sele, showing Dancing girls

One of the carvings (metopes) in the later style. This shows some dancing girls who presumably ornamented the temple as actually built.

It was argued that the later ones were the ones that actually adorned the Temple and that the earlier ones must have come from a smaller building which they called the Treasury. Thus when in the 1950s, a new Museum was erected at Paestum, these sculptures were made the centrepiece of the display, and a replica of the ‘Treasury’ was erected at the core of the museum.

However this arrangement always rather controversial and the subsequent excavations in the 1990s discovered a trench that ran under the foundations of the Treasury and contained 3rd century BC pottery, so the Treasury could not possibly have held the sculptures. Where then did these early sculptures come from?

Plan of the Temple at the mouth of the River Sele.

Plan of the foundations of the Temples. The plan in yellow shows the trenches for the Temple that was never built – the foundations were dug and then backfilled with sand. The plans in grey show the Temple as actually built

Further excavations on the site of the temple discovered earlier foundations, never used because they were unstable. Were these carvings ordered for this early Temple and delivered by the contractors, only to find that the temple had been abandoned. Were they then put into store, and only used as the foundations for later buildings, which have ensured their survival for later archaeologists to discover and admire?





Paestum:  plan of the temple at the Foce del Sele

Plan of the sanctuary complex at the mouth of the River Sele. Note the porticoes which provided accommodation for pilgrims and the square building to the right where the loom weights suggest that weaving took place. Plans taken from John Pedley’s book on Paestum.

The site is remarkable for other reasons too. Because it was so far from the town, special buildings had to be erected to accommodate the pilgrims.








Guesthouse for pilgrims at the Temple at the River Sele

Reconstruction drawing of the portico building interpreted as a guesthouse. The building at right angles to the right contained two ovens and was the kitchen. To the left is the end of the Temple itself.

Two such hostelries have been discovered, the northern one of which has a kitchen attached where meals were prepared.





Square Building at the mouth of the River Sele

The square building (the Edificio quadrato) has been reconstructed in the Museum with a weaving loom in the far corner. It was a large building and could have accommodated considerable activity.

To the East of the temple was a large square building, where, it is argued, young ladies about to get married spent the months before their wedding weaving their wedding dress or possibly cloaks for the goddess? It contained a large number of loom weights, indicating the presence of looms, and there were also ointment bottles from which they beautified themselves and clay pipes which indicated they indulged in singing and dancing.

Favissa or burial pit for  offerings, as reconstructed  at the river Sele

How to dispose of surplus offerings. This reconstruction of a favissa, or burial pit has been made in the museum.

Another interesting aspect is the problem of what to do with all the offerings made to temple. Pilgrims came to the sanctuary and made offerings, often terracotta figurines and it is difficult to know what to do with them. And at Paestum and several long pits have been discovered and wells, filled with these figurines and other objects where they could be discreetly and honourably disposed of.

Museum at the mouth of the River Sele the Museo Narrante

The Museum at the mouth of the River Sele, the Museo Narrante. This was an abandoned farmhouse which has been converted into a museum.

There is nothing to see at the site of the Sanctuary  itself, apart from the remains of the current excavations, but a farmhouse nearby built in the 1930s and abandoned in the 1980s has been turned into a Museum, a Museo Narrante or narrating museum, which has no original objects – they are all in the Museum at Paestum – but nevertheless tells the story of the Sanctuary through displays and audio-visual presentations, while a mock-up of the ‘Square Room gives a good impression of what this remarkable buildings look like.

Unfortunatley, the museum is now closed


 On to the Museum


23rd November 2014