Paestum

Paestum's unforgettable Unesco-listed temples are among the best-preserved monuments of Magna Graecia, the Greek colony that once covered much of southern Italy.

Paestum, or Poseidonia as the city was originally called (in honour of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea), was founded in the 6th century BC by Greek settlers and fell under Roman control in 273 BC. Decline later set in following the demise of the Roman Empire. Savage raids by the Saracens and periodic outbreaks of malaria forced the ever-dwindling population to abandon the city altogether. Its temples were rediscovered in the late 18th century but the site as a whole wasn't unearthed until the 1950s.

The first temple you meet on entering the site from the northern end is the 6th-century-B C Tempio di Cerere (Temple of Ceres). Originally dedicated to Athena, it served as a Christian church in medieval times.

As you head south you can pick out the basic outline of the large rectangular forum, the heart of the ancient city. Among the partially standing buildings are the vast domestic housing area and, further south, the amphitheatre.

The Tempio di Nettuno (Temple of Neptune), dating from about 450 BC, is the largest and best preserved of the three temples at Paestum; only parts of its inside walls and roof are missing. Almost next door, the so-called basilica (in fact, a temple to the goddess Hera) is Paestum's oldest surviving monument. Dating from the middle of the 6th century BC, it's a magnificent sight with nine columns across and 18 along the sides.

Just east of the site, the museum houses a collection of much-weathered metopes (bas-relief friezes). This collection includes 33 of the original 36 metopes from Tempio di Argiva Hera (Temple of Argive Hera), situated 9km north of Paestum, of which virtually nothing else remains. The star exhibit, however, is the Sth-century BC frescoes Tomba del Trujfatore (Tomb of the Diver), whose depiction of a diver in midair is thought to represent the passage from life to death.

There are various restaurants on site, of which the best is the Ristorante Nettuno (@ 0828 81 10 28; Via Principe di Piemonte; meals around €25) near the southern entrance. Alternatively you can buy some mozzarella from the nearby La Fattoria del Casaro (@ 0828 72 27 04; Via Licinella 5).

For a place to stay, Hotel Villa Rita (@ 0828 81 10 81; www.hotelvillarita.it; s/d ind breakfast €62/88; mm) has comfortable three-star rooms and a swimming pool in its own verdant grounds.

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Mosaic detail from Pompeii, displayed in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (p80)

Mosaic detail from Pompeii, displayed in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (p80)

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