2,500 year old luxurious Greek Palace uncovered in Italy

Magna Graecia

2,500-year-old luxurious Greek Palace uncovered in Italy

Archaeologists have made a recent discovery of a monumental building and priceless ceramics imported from Greece in excavations at Poseidonia, which shows for the first time how rich its Greek founders were when establishing the city in Italy in the 6th century B.C.

2,500 year old luxurious Greek Palace uncovered in Italy
2,500-year-old luxurious Greek Palace uncovered in Italy

The founders hailed from the ancient Greek city of Sybaris, near the Gulf of Taranto. The quantity of Attic red-figure pottery and other luxuries suggest a fabulous wealth the city’s Greek inhabitants made, apparently from pilgrims coming to worship at its temples.

The block-built structure, which could be a palace or simply a very rich house, seems to date to the same decades in which the temples and the famous “Tomb of the Diver” were built in the town, excavation leader Dr Gabriel Zuchtrigel told media.

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So far, the excavators have uncovered a large domestic building built out of huge ashlar blocks as well as pavements and floors of buildings dating to the 5th and 6th centuries B.C.

Numerous cooking pots, fine dining ware and exquisite drinking vessels imported from Attica and Corinth attest to a wealthy and flourishing civic centre.

One of the most remarkable discoveries was a fragment of an Attic red-figure vase painting with a representation of the Greek god Hermes
One of the most remarkable discoveries was a fragment of an Attic red-figure vase painting with a representation of the Greek god Hermes

One of the most remarkable discoveries was a fragment of an Attic red-figure vase painting with a representation of the Greek god Hermes, the winged messenger of the gods. Between the beginning of the 6th to the 4th century B.C., black- and red-figure pottery techniques were used in Athens to decorate fine pottery while simpler, undecorated wares fulfilled everyday household purposes.

In red-figure vase painting, the decorative motifs on vases remained the colour of the clay; the background, filled in with a clay slip, turned black. Figures could be articulated with glaze lines or dilute washes of glaze applied by brush. The red-figure technique was invented around 530 B.C., quite possibly by the potter Andokides and his workshop.

Poseidonia is one of the finest archaeological sites remaining from the ancient Greek world. Besides the three temples, which are in an extraordinary state of preservation, the site has a vast necropolis.

Although the necropolis contains a number of beautifully painted tombs, the so-called Tomb of the Diver stands out, remaining one of the finest known examples of wall painting in the 5th century B.C. when Greek art was at its epitome.

Discovered in 1968 by Mario Napoli about 1.6 kilometres south of the town, the tomb dates to around 480 B.C. The date can be fixed fairly precisely by a Greek vase found inside the tomb.

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2,500 years ago, Poseidonia was one of the most important sanctuaries in Magna Graecia (today's southern Italy).  The Temple of Athena, dating to the 6th century B.C. and the Temple of Poseidon, dating to 460 B.C., were major attractions for pilgrims and an important source of employment for the city's inhabitants.

The town gradually grew between these two sanctuaries, but until recently visitors could for the most part only observe the Roman town that started to spring up in the mid 3rd century B.C. Now the archaeologists are opening up a window into the life of the city at the time when the magnificent temples were built, somewhere around the 6th century B.C.

The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three ancient Greek temples in the Doric order, dating from about 600 to 450 B.C., which are in a very good state of preservation. The city walls and amphitheatre are largely intact, and the bottom of the walls of many other structures remain and paved roads. The site is open to the public, and there is a modern national museum within it, which also contains the finds from the associated Greek site of Foce del Sele.

After its foundation by Greek colonists under the name of Poseidonia (Ancient Greek: Ποσειδωνία) it was eventually conquered by the local Lucanians and later the Romans. The Lucanians renamed it Paistos and the Romans gave the city its current name. As Pesto or Paestum, the town became a bishopric (now only titular), but it was abandoned in the Early Middle Ages, and left undisturbed and largely forgotten until the eighteenth century.

Today the remains of the city are found in the modern frazione of Paestum, which is part of the comune of Capaccio in the Province of Salerno, Campania, Italy. The modern settlement, directly to the south of the archaeological site, is a popular seaside resort, with long sandy beaches.


GCT Team

This article was researched and written by a GCT team member.