Within a thirty minute car journey north from Castellabate, via the gateway to Cilento town is the larger town of Agropoli, just south of Salerno.
Agropoli sits prettily on a promentary looking out at the Tyrrhenian Sea, where African and Eurasian Plates meet. Reading facts like this sent to me straight to the atlas. There can be times, even after many years of travel where we just don’t piece the world together in relation to our current position. With Africa only a short distance away it made this area of Italy’s coast a target for raids from North Africa in the 16th and 17th century and, according to one historian, Turkish Pirates contributed to the diminishing population. The large, as yet to erupt, underground volcano of Mount Marsili, standing at nearly 3,000 metres, sits just over 450 metres under the sea’s surface. We didn’t see it!
Agropoli is one of the liveliest towns in the area. A ‘must see’ and it will take you a good day to explore taking in sights such as Aragonese Castle, built as a watchtower and reconstructed by the Aragons in the 15th Century, although there have been other fortresses here since Byzantine times. Whilst we didn’t have too much time to explore Agropili it is one of our ‘next time explore’ towns.
Driving on to the impressive ruins of Paestum, which dates from around 600BC (or if we follow the latest school curriculum BCE), these three well preserved Doric temples are surrounded by the ruins of the ancient town. Walking around the paved roads of this 2500 year old ancient city and examining the old structure of shops, semi circular amphitheatre, and gymnasium reveals so much about the rich history of this settlement. Just touching the 5th century BCE walls is a treat as we tread and feel the history. There are steps to climb up, and look down into what was once someone’s home, communal baths and market squares. Floor mosaics that are cordoned off show signs of a settlement that had style and oozed craftmanship.
Parking here is tricky and, as a word of caution, don’t believe the locals who say ‘yes it’s OK to park here’. We did this and ended up two months after our return finding that the car hire company had charged us all on our credit cards around 12 Euro’s each for parking in a restricted zone. The big question rattling in my brain: Was this a scam by the police/the vendor/the car hire company? The jury is out on this one so beware if you do visit.
Under a blazing sun with, hats, purchased from the friendly (er?) street vendor, umbrellas and bottles of water at the ready we embarked on our afternoons mission. It became clear after three hours that this is a trip that needs a different plan. It’s a good full days visit to get the best results and breaking for lunch or Peroni to get out of the noonday sun is a good plan. Buying the official guide brochure (5 Euros) which I’m still reading and finding how much I actually missed due to our short visit, is a must. Don’t rely on your mobile or tablet to get you round – you won’t see the screen in the blazing sun for a start!
Each of the three Greek temples at Paestum has its own story, the oldest being Hera (9×18 columns) followed by Athena (6×13 columns) or Ceres (whichever book you read), and Poseidon or Hera 2 (6×14 columns) again depending on who you listen to. They are a mixed bag of sizes with all the fronts facing the sun and mighty impressive.
Originally founded by the Greeks as Poseidonia and later occupied by the Romans who named it Paestum, this is a flat area and easy to get around with views in each direction for miles. The temples aren’t the only points of interest as the area around Paestum features outstandingly long, sandy beaches, which were used for the US army 36th Batallion landings in WW2. It’s a far cry from the swampy, malaria infested area of the 4th/5th century AD with some of the population moving south to Agropoli to escape disease. The temples and surrounding area became ‘lost’ only to be ‘rediscovered’ around the time that Pompei and Herculaneum were excavated. They are still working on excavations on this huge site.
Numerous hotels and camp sites are close by with some of the best only a 2km walk away.
This is an area rich in history indeed which was emphasised during our visit by one family member exclaiming, ‘They filmed Jason and The Argonauts here” and, with mobile in hand, proved it. Education is a wonderful thing!
Returning to our villa in the evening it was time to fire up the outdoor pizza oven. Dragging a fallen old branch from the wood opposite (causing amusement to all) we soon got the temperature up and, while the rest were busy preparing dough bases, toppings and salad (again!), we enjoyed keeping the fire burning, playing table tennis with the children, enjoying a glass of red wine, listening to the distant dog barking and watching the sun go slowly down over the hill.