…what amazing stories we might hear in the ancient city of Paestum. It was founded by Greeks in the sixth century BC and became an important stop on the trade route. The Romans took over in the third century and Paestum became a garrison town in the typical Roman style.
What is remarkable about Paestum is that it holds the one of the best collections of Greek temples anywhere. The three who have been standing here since 550, 500, and 450 BC respectively are stunning in themselves, and so striking in an area that also looks like time has passed it by.
When we got off our train, there was no taxi to be seen at the train station, and very little else to be observed, except a long straight road, which we hope was leading us to our hotel. It was quite an expedition, which required an emergency stop for a chocolate bar at one point. All that was available was a brick of pistachio chocolate, but it did the trick. After some trial and error, we found our hotel, which is to be applauded for the subtlety of its signage, almost exactly across the street from where I was prepared to sit until an ambulance came for me.
Now, on to the three gorgeous temples. All are misnamed, according to current scholarship, but what’s in a name? We first saw the Temple of Ceres (500 BC), which was built on what was then the highest point in town. (While you’re looking, admire Don’s new hat.)
As if that weren’t enough for any one ancient city, we next came to the newest of the three sisters, the Temple of Neptune (450 BC). It is considered to be the inspiration for the Parthenon.
The oldest of the three, and the one of the oldest Greek temples anywhere, the last of the group is the Temple of Hera (550 BC). These last two are very close to each other, and seem like an embarrassment of riches for any one city.
In between these goddesses, there are the remains of the Roman city, with just a few Greek places left to admire. Once again, many of those lovely pre-cut building stones the Romans provided ended up elsewhere after they left. Rumor has it that the cathedral in Amalfi has a lot to answer for.
There is a museum here with the artifacts found in Paestum, and it has some wonderful decorative objects that show just how rich life was over two thousand years ago.
The centerpiece of the collection is the famed Diver’s Tomb, which had beautifully preserved paintings on each of the sides and the inside top when opened. We were very lucky yesterday to notice that the Diver himself is currently on display in Naples, a disappointment to many here, who had to make do with a plastic-sheeted replica of the main event.
This place is quite magical, and it’s staggering to realize that we are admiring the work of 25 centuries ago. We owe those ancient Greeks and Romans quite a debt. A pistachio chocolate bar doesn’t begin to cover it…
Don’s Food Corner
Once again we found ourselves in a situation where the only restaurants within walking distance exist solely to serve tourists — whom the restaurant owners know they will never have to see again. What to do? There were no helpful recommendations in our guidebooks. Being suckers for restaurants that feature tables with tablecloths on them and waiters wearing black bow-ties, we strolled into an attractive place directly next to the museum.
A mistake. We should have just tucked into a little pizza place and called it a day. Instead, we went along with the ambitious-sounding menu offerings and hoped for the best.
The started was a platter of bufalo mozzarella (since this is the region where it is is produced) and slices of prosciutto. It was OK, but we are beginning to get judgmental about the prosciutto we encounter. Clearly, there’s prosciutto and then there’s prosciutto. But how can you tell the difference when ordering at a restaurant? Should we ask for a certain brand or prosciutto from a specific region, like ordering wine? I guess when we get to the prosciutto-producing area of Italy we’ll get some tips on what to ask before ordering. In the meantime, we’re at the mercy of the kitchen.
We moved on: Jo stuck with her standard order of scallopine. This time it was billed as Scallopine mediterrano. It turned out to be a variation on saltimbocca. Thin slices of meat topped with prosciutto, mozzarella, a leaf of basil and a half of a cherry tomato. Jo felt the meat was underdone yet tough. I tasted it and was more forgiving.
I tried a platter of fried seafood — calamari, shrimp, whole anchovies and some other small whole fish that I couldn’t identify. Sardines? The breading was delicate – I think just flour. But, of course, I had to deal with shrimps in the shell with the heads still attached and de-boning all the little fishes. A little time-consuming, but it wasn’t bad.
Not a memorable meal, except as documented here.