Odyssey 2018 - Ancient Greek temples, and buffalo mozzarella

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March 10th 2018
Published: March 11th 2018
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An earlier than usual wake-up call was in order this morning, as Francesco and his family (wife Anna, daughter Lucia, and son Luigi) were at our door by 8:45 AM for the 2-hour drive to visit the Greek and Roman ruins at Paestum, a small town in the countryside, about 30 miles south of Salerno. The bambini, 5-year-old fraternal twins, were very well behaved, and we enjoyed many chuckles while observing their antics throughout a very long day.

We arrived at the site of the ruins in Paestum (known as Poseidonia to the Greeks, who settled in this area during the 6th-century B.C.) at around 10:30 AM. The site itself is in a very bucolic setting, surrounded by green fields and wildflowers, with rolling hills as a backdrop. Although skies were overcast, the temperature rose to 60-degrees F. by later in the afternoon, while the walking paths were flat and easily manageable.

The entire ancient city of Paestum, which is laid out along a north-south axis, covers an area of approximately 300 acres; however, only the 60 acres that contain the three main temples and the other main buildings have been excavated. The remaining 240 acres are on private lands that have not been excavated.

The city’s surrounding walls, which have been recently restored, stretch for 3 miles and would have originally been about 21 feet high. They date to between the late 4th- and the 3rd-century B.C., the period when Paestum became a Roman colony. Along these walls, which were protected by a ditch which is still visible, there were 28 square, round and pentagonal towers, and four gates situated at the cardinal points.

The condition of the three Greek temples at this site is nothing short of amazing, considering that each of them has endured the ravages of time for the last 2,500 years! Visitors are permitted to walk into and around the Temple of Neptune, dating back to 460 B.C., which is perhaps the best-preserved Greek temple in southern Italy. The temple is built of enormous limestone blocks held together with simple dowels without the use of mortar, a technique that probably helped it withstand earthquakes and other natural calamities.

The kids had a blast climbing around the ruins, while the rest of us marveled at how the ancient Greeks erected these massive monuments, each of which was dedicated to a particular god worshipped by the Greeks. The adjacent Temple of Hera (often referred to as the "basilica") is the oldest of the three temples, dating back to 550 B.C. It is one of the oldest standing anywhere in the world, and has a noticeably different style than its later counterparts.

The Romans eventually took over this area during the 3rd-century B.C., and most of the ruins in Paestum (except for the temples and a few other artifacts) are Roman. As we walked north, toward the Temple of Ceres, we passed the site of the old Roman forum, and the remains of what was a Roman amphitheater. Not far from the forum is the so-called "Ekklesiasterion", a public meeting and market place (or "agora") used by the Greeks.

We finally reached the Temple of Ceres, dating to 500 B.C., which is built on a small mound created by the Greeks. Some of its capitals were broken in an earthquake, requiring the installation of steel bars for support; and during medieval times, the Normans scavenged some of the limestone blocks from the temple for use elsewhere (some were apparently used in the construction of the cathedral in Amalfi).

At this point, after 2-hours of rambling among the ruins, we exited the site to visit the archaeological museum across the street. This museum, housed in a Fascist-era building, exhibits artifacts dating from prehistoric to Greek to Roman times, many of them at the very site where they were discovered. The English translations that accompany the exhibits, plus beautifully-crafted displays, make this museum quite interesting, so we spent another hour roaming its several levels.

On the way back home, Francesco wanted us to sample the mozzarella cheese for which this area is so famous. So he stopped at a working farm, where the buffalo still roam! Although the day's freshly made mozzarella was sold out by the time we arrived (3:30 PM), we all sampled some gelato made from the buffalo milk. Meanwhile, the kids enjoyed meeting the buffalo, up-close-and-personal, while they were munching away in the chow line when we arrived.

The buffalo mozzarella from Campania is a dairy product of Southern Italy, traditionally produced in Campania, especially in the provinces of Caserta and Salerno. Mozzarella di bufala (or buffalo mozzarella) from Campania is made according to production rules that comply with strict procedures.The Italian buffalo is native to eastern
The Ruggiero familyThe Ruggiero familyThe Ruggiero family

At the Temple of Neptune
India and other parts of Asia.

According to some sources, it was the Norman Kings who, around the year 1000 (from Sicily, where the buffalo had been introduced by the Arabs), spread it throughout Southern Italy. Others claim the buffalo was already known in Greek times, and bred in Italy since Roman times, while some support the native origin of this animal.

References to cheese products made from buffalo milk only started to appear at the beginning of the 12th-century. Mozzarella consumption became widespread throughout the southern region of Italy from the second half of the 18th-century.

After leaving the buffalo farm, we drove another 15-minutes until Francesco located a kind of delicatessen where fresh mozzarella was available. He proceeded to order some, along with several kinds of salami, sun-dried tomatoes (marinated in olive oil), wedges of pecorino cheese, and some great crunchy bread. We all shared in this feast before heading back to Piano di Sorrento, where Francesco delivered us to our apartment at 6:15 PM. It was a very long day, but unforgettable!

Dee's comments:

What a beautiful day spent with our friends Francesco and Anna, along with their beautiful children!

Beginning to end, the ruins and their history were fascinating to behold; even though it was a long day, it was well worth it.

Nice coffee stop in the morning, on the way to Paestum; then later the gelato at the farm, and the delicious mozzarella, salami, etc., at the delicatessen on the way home--all tummies were full.

Thank you, Francesco!

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 26


Dee with LuciaDee with Lucia
Dee with Lucia

Temple of Neptune
Dee and LuigiDee and Luigi
Dee and Luigi

At the Temple of Neptune
Dee with Anna, Lucia and LuigiDee with Anna, Lucia and Luigi
Dee with Anna, Lucia and Luigi

At the Temple of Hera site

Remains of an ancient Greek meeting place, likely the site of the agora (market).

11th March 2018

The temples are so impressive. I can’t imagine how they seem when you are so close to them. It looked like a great day for exploring. And the fun food stops where everything looked tasty and delicious! I loved the buffalo, I want to hug them! ;)
11th March 2018

The temples are beautiful. It was amazing that you could walk and climb on them. From the pictures it looked like you were the only ones there. What a beautiful day looked like clear skies finally!!! The kids have gotten so big what a fun day.
13th March 2018

Such a nice few days y'all have had!! I am glad the weather has started to clear up a little bit, the views are quite beautiful with a blue sky. The temples nevertheless never cease to amaze me. I am becoming anxious to see one up close and personal myself. So happy you got to spend time with Francesco and his family. They seem so sweet and the kids are just adorable. Keep adventuring! miss you lots!!
23rd March 2018

....memories of a lifetime...
to see such wonders of the world... to share such moments with friends made afar ..... these are what shall be treasured for always... grateful the experiences you shared with us, it just amazes me how these temples were built and yet remain.... definite wonders of the world. the meal sounds to be right up my way.... yums all the way.

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