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Ruins of Paestum, Italy - Photo by Martin Gray - click photo for Sacred Sites Website
Ruins of Paestum, Italy: The 450 BC Temple of Neptune
originally dedicated to the fertility goddess, Hera

(The following is an excerpt from Martin Gray's website
which you can reach by clicking on the photo above. )

Approximately fifty-five miles (ninety kilometers) south of Naples, Italy, lies the ancient city of Paestum. Legends tell of the city's founding by Jason and the Argonauts, but archaeologists, uncomfortable with the stuff of legends, attribute Paestum's birth to seventh century Greek colonists.

Paestum was long known as Poseidonia, indicating that the site was once a ceremonial center of Poseidon (the Roman Neptune), the god of the sea. The two primary temples, the 550 BC Basilica and the 450 BC temple of Neptune (shown in the photo), were originally dedicated to the fertility goddess Hera. A third temple on the site was dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, spiritual consciousness, and the arts.

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. With the fall of the Roman empire, the spread of malaria from nearby marshes, and Muslim raids in the ninth century, Paestum fell into decline and was deserted for many centuries.

Rediscovered only in 1752 by an Italian road-building crew working in the area, Paestum is the finest preserved Greek temple complex in the Mediterranean world.

The initial temple dedications to feminine deities show that the site was originally sacred to prehistoric earth-goddess cults before its usurpation by the patriarchal Poseidon priesthood.

According to my theories, the gender of the primary deities at the site is an indication of the gender of the earth energies (in the sense of yin and yang, as discussed in the main body of the text), and the personality characteristics of the deities are a metaphorical indication of how the site will affect human beings.

Hera was a goddess of fertility and creativity, and Athena a goddess of art and spiritual wisdom. Did Hera and Athena actually exist as discreet physical entities, or should these goddesses be understood as mythological encodings of the particular energetic qualities of the site?

While at Paestum I received visionary information that the area of the ruins is powerfully conducive to the awakening and amplification of the capacity of artistic creativity. It is fascinating to note that a popular legend resonates with this idea.

Childless couples flock 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.

Martin Gray is an anthropologist and photographer specializing in the study of sacred sites and pilgrimage traditions around the world. During the past fifteen years, Martin has visited and photographed over 900 sacred sites in forty countries.

Visit his website at

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