Yes, you read that right, enter the temple, the house of the gods. In Paestum, unlike in other places, you can. The visitor can enter both temples of the city’s southern sanctuary, the ones commonly referred to as the Basilica and the Temple of Neptune. Did you know, however, that they are neither a Basilica nor a Temple?
The Basilica started being called that in the 18th century because, since it had lost its roof, it was believed to be one of the famous Roman administrative buildings. However, during later excavations in the area, a great many statuettes of the goddess Hera and inscriptions dedicated to her were unearthed; therefore we are now almost certain that the earnest spouse of Zeus was worshipped in that temple.
And because a fine terracotta statue of Zeus was found in the temple next to it – by the way, go to the Museum to marvel at all the statues – it is very likely that the royal couple of Greek mythology was worshipped in that sanctuary. But now enter the temples, walk up to the naos and imagine the imposing simulacra of the god and goddess there. Then turn around, walk out slowly and look around you.
The landscape of the plain of the Sele river looks different, when glimpsed through the pillars of the temple. Visitors perceive the exchange between Greek temples and the whole surrounding landscape; how, apart from the naos, there was no real “inside” and “outside”, but a seamless permeability.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to enter the other famous temple of the city, the one towering over the northern Sanctuary and called “of Ceres”, although in actual fact it was dedicated to Athena, the goddess of war and knowledge. In fact, a great many bronze weapons were found nearby, life-sized or miniature, which leave no doubts.
So as you can see, Paestum was a very “feminine” city, protected by two great goddesses. And their temples, built by the Greeks between the 6th and 5th century BC, were preserved as places of worship throughout antiquity. That is how they have reached us virtually intact. They are the best preserved ancient temples worldwide.