Mini “missing link” Doric temple found at Paestum

A previously unknown Greek temple has been discovered along the defensive walls of the ancient city at the Archaeological Park of Paestum. Archaeologists have uncovered the stone foundation of a Doric temple with its entrance steps and the base of the cella, the small interior chamber that held the cult statue of the venerated deity.

Radiocarbon testing of the clay decorative elements of the temple date it to the first quarter of the 5th century B.C., a period when the more imposing monumental structures in the ancient Greek colony of Poseidonia (Paestum’s original name) had already been built. The Temple of Hera was built between 560 and 520 B.C.; the Temple of Athena around 500 B.C; the Temple of Neptune in 460 B.C.

While very similar in design to the Temple of Neptune, this one is on a much smaller scale. It was 51 feet long by 24.6 feet wide and peripteral (having a single row of columns on all sides). There were four columns on the front and seven on the sides.

It is the smallest peripteral Doric temple that we know before the Hellenistic age, the first building in Paestum that fully expresses the Doric canon”, explains Gabriel Zuchtriegel , the former director of Paestum today in charge of Pompeii who has just given the prints a full-bodied study on Doric architecture. “Almost a small model of the great temple of Neptune”, which at the time must have been under construction, “a sort of missing link between the 6th and 5th centuries BC”. Very important, therefore, also because it somehow demonstrates the artistic and cultural autonomy of the community and disavows those who have always believed that in the colonies they limited themselves to copying the productions of the motherland.

An unusually large quantity of objects were found in the area between the front of the building and the altar. Hundreds of votive offerings, many of them terracotta figurines of the person making the offering or of deities, miniature temples, altars and architectural elements have been unearthed. Notable finds include a stone altar with a groove to collect the fluids from sacrifices, as many as 15 votives of Eros riding a dolphin, sections of marble palmette reliefs, a terracotta palmette antefix from the roof connected to a gutter spout decorated as a lion head, and seven exceptional terracotta bull heads placed on the ground around the altar. They were likely deposited in the closing rite when the temple fell into disuse after Rome conquered the city in 273 B.C.

Archaeologists first encountered the remains of the temple on June 12th, 2019, during an excavation along the western walls of the ancient city of Poseidonia. Follow-up excavations were disturbed by COVID but have finally resumed this year. Right now, researchers are documenting the phases of construction of the temple and attempting to explain why the walls on the back of the structure collapsed.

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