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Temple of Hera

Listed under Sacred Spaces in The Amalfi Coast, Italy.

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Fifty miles south of Naples stands the ancient city of Paestum. Legends tell of the city's founding by Jason and the Argonauts, though archaeologists attribute Paestum's birth to 7th century BC Greek colonists. Paestum was long known as Poseidonia, indicating that the site was once a ceremonial center of Poseidon, the god of the sea. The two primary temples, built between 550 and 450 BC, were originally dedicated to the fertility goddess Hera. A third temple on the site was dedicated to Athena. Poseidonia was conquered and occupied in 400 BC by the Lucans, an Italian people who ruled until 273 BC when the city became a Roman colony. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the spread of malaria from nearby marshes, and Moslem raids in the 9th century, Paestum was deserted. Rediscovered only in 1752 by an Italian road-building crew, Paestum is the finest preserved Greek temple complex in the Mediterranean world.

The temple’s initial dedications to feminine deities indicate that the site was originally sacred to prehistoric earth-goddess cults before its usurpation by the patriarchal Poseidon priesthood. Hera was a goddess of fertility and creativity, and Athena a goddess of art and spiritual wisdom. Did Hera and Athena actually exist as physical beings, or could these goddesses be better understood as metaphors indicating the energetic characteristics of the site? Some visitors to Paestum have noted that the area of the ruins stimulates artistic creativity. It is interesting to note that a popular legend resonates with this idea. Childless couples come to the temple of Hera to copulate beneath the night sky, in the belief that making love within the shrine of the goddess will call forth her fertilizing influence and thereby insure pregnancy. At Paestum, Hera is not only a goddess of fertility; she is also a goddess of childbirth. Ultimately these myths speak to us of the power of this place to birth newness in the human spirit.

Temple of Hera on the Sacred Sites Website.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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