quote the Blue Guide to Southern Italy, "Paestum has been for
a thousand years a romantic ruin in the midst of a solemn wilderness.
Its Doric temples, unsurpassed even by those of Athens in noble
simplicity and good preservation, produce an incomparable effect
of majesty and grandeur."
Thats evocative but not exactly true. Paestum is more than
2,500 years old, not a mere 1,000, and its surrounding countryside
is no longer a solemn wilderness, but rich, bucolic farm land.
The city was founded in the 6th century BC by the Greeks, who called
it Poseidonia, referring to Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea because
it is on the sea. (Neptune is Poseidons Roman name). In ancient
times it was famous for its roses, which bloomed two seasons of
the year, and for violets, which still grow wild. It appears to
have been gradually abandoned because the swampy land harbored malaria-carrying
mosquitoes. In 877 AD, it was destroyed by the Saracens, after which
the ruins became overgrown and hidden. They were rediscovered in
the 18th century when the road that now still exists was built.
The famous line about Mussolini is that "at least he made
the trains run on time." In Paestum, which is the Latin name
for the ancient city, the joke about Mussolini is that at least
he drained the swamps. A water/irrigation system was built, and
now, with the water and mosquitoes under control, the land is fertile
and the area has become not only a place to raise water buffalo
and crops, but a beach resort, mainly for Italian families.
The main feature of the ruins of Paestum are three 5th and 6th
century Doric temples. Greek painting is extremely rare, but an
exquisite tomb mural dedicated to "the diver" was discovered
in Paestum and is housed in the museum across the road. A visit
to the temples and the museum is always on the agenda at Cook At
Seliano. They are just down the road.
Sele Plain on which the temples sit, and for which Tenuta Seliano
is named, is now most famous for mozzarella di bufala, and the main
road is lined with small cheese factories. Naturally, we visit a
cheese factory to see how the mozzarella, ricotta, and other
buffalo dairy products are made.
The Seliano estate itself was built in the 18th century as, primarily, a horse-breeding farm. Only in the last decade has it been converted into an agriturismo with modern, comfortable accommodations in former horse stables and other farm buildings. Horseback riding is available. At Masseria Eliseo, down the road, the Bellelli family breeds water buffalo, and the rooms there, as well as the kitchen in which we conduct classes, are only a few years old.