New Discoveries at the Small Temple of Paestum: Eros and Dolphins

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Excavations at the temple have unearthed hundreds of votive offerings, statues, and altars. Among the findings are a stone base with access steps and a boundary for the cell that housed the deity, colorful terracotta roof decorations with lion-shaped gutters, an extraordinary gorgon, and a touching Aphrodite. Also discovered were seven astonishing bull heads, an altar with a grooved stone for collecting sacrificial fluids, and hundreds of votive offerings, including images of an Eros riding a dolphin, which could be linked to the mythical Poseidon, the god who gave the city its name.


The sanctuary, discovered in 2019 along the ancient city walls, has been revealing great surprises during the ongoing excavations. The site offers a glimpse into 500 years of the city’s history, founded by Greeks from Sybaris in 600 BCE, then passing to the Lucanians, and ultimately becoming a Roman colony.

The analysis of the terracotta decorations has allowed dating the temple’s foundation to the first quarter of the 5th century BCE, when some of the most important monumental buildings in the Greek colony, such as the Temple of Hera and the Temple of Athena, had already been constructed. The Temple of Neptune was completed a little later, in 460 BCE.

Paestum Velia

The small temple, measuring 15.60 by 7.50 meters, features four columns at the front and seven on the sides. It is built in the Doric style and is distinguished by the purity of its forms. It is considered the smallest Doric peripteral temple known before the Hellenistic period and the first building in Paestum to fully express the Doric canon.

The site also includes an extraordinary array of artifacts found between the temple’s facade and the external altar, including terracotta statuettes depicting the faces of donors or deities, 15 images of Eros riding a dolphin, and miniature temples and altars. These small masterpieces of craftsmanship join the seven bull heads found around the altar, which may have been used as props for those administering the cult.

Paestum Velia
One of the seven terracotta bull heads found next to the altar, 9 meters from the entrance of the temple. PHOTO ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK OF PAESTUM VELIA

The sanctuary continued to be frequented in the Lucanian period and from 273 BCE by the Romans but fell into disuse at some point. Excavations will require further time, studies, restorations, and laboratory analysis to understand more about the temple and its history.

Many elements of great interest have been found at the site, such as a signature on one of the dolphin statuettes from the Avili, a family of ceramists of Latium origin also known in Delos. The sanctuary’s unique location, built within the city but far from the center and other temples, close to the city walls and overlooking the sea, raises questions about its dedication. It has been suggested that the temple might be dedicated to Poseidon, but this hypothesis remains to be confirmed.

Paestum Velia
Architectural element with lion protome gutter PHOTO ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK OF PAESTUM VELIA

The Italian Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano, has praised the extraordinary findings and expressed the need for further support and funding to strengthen conservation and development activities at the archaeological park.



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