Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park with the Archeological Sites of Paestum and Velia, and the Certosa di Padula
Cilento And Vallo Di Diano National Park With The Archeological Sites Of Paestum And Velia, And The Certosa Di Padula
Cultural Italy Europe And North America Province Of Salerno, Campania

During the prehistoric period, and again in the Middle Ages, the Cilento region served as a key route for cultural, political and commercial communications in an exceptional manner, using the crests of the mountain chains running east-west and thereby creating a cultural landscape of outstanding significance and quality between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Cilento National Park is essentially a mountainous region cut by several river valleys sloping down to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The earliest human occupation identified in this region dates back over 250,000 years, when Homo erectus was living in caves along the coast. Homo sapiens sapiens replaced his Neanderthal cousin during the Upper Palaeolithic period and established seasonal camps during this and the subsequent Mesolithic period. Neolithic settlements have been discovered in a number of places across the area of the park. During the Bronze and Iron Ages small groups of warriors and traders moved into to the region. By the end of the 2nd millennium, trade with Mycenae had become substantial, and many of the sophisticated cultural and technological elements of late Bronze Age Greece were introduced. With the collapse of Mycenae this trade with the Eastern Mediterranean declined greatly, to be replaced by active trade within the peninsula itself, as Cilento was also an important boundary zone with the Etruscan cultures of northern Italy. Greek colonization began in the late 7th century with coastal trading settlements being established at Agropoli and Poseidonia (Roman Paestum) in the northern part of Cilento. Elea (Velia) was founded in 540 BC and was to become one of the most influential centres of learning in the ancient world. At the end of the 5th century BC, the Lucanians of the interior defeated the league of Greek coastal cities, apart from Elea. The region was incorporated into the territories of Rome in the later 3rd century BC. It was not until the western Roman Empire crumbled and its roads and bridges fell into disrepair that the earlier network of communication and settlement came into its own again. During the Middle Ages feudal castles and religious foundations were established;within the pre-Roman framework, the Greek and Lucanian towns revived.

The most noteworthy archaeological site is that of Paestum, the Greek city of Poseidonia. Within the city walls, a number of exceptional public buildings have been revealed between the main north-south axis (cardo maximus ) and the Sacred Way. The most outstanding of these are the three great temples of Hera, Ceres and Poseidon. The oldest is the Temple of Hera: like the other temples here it is Doric in style. The Temple of Ceres (probably dedicated to Athena) is dated to around 500 BC. Its proportions and use of space in this, the smallest of the Paestum temples, are superior to that of the Temple of Hera. The architect of the Temple of Poseidon (in reality also dedicated to Hera), from the mid-5th century BC, was clearly inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. The remains of the Roman forum built over the Greek agora have been excavated and are on view. This large open space is surrounded by public buildings, identified as the bouleuterion (council chamber), the curia (courthouse), and the macellum (covered market).

Much less survives on the site of Elea/Velia. The most striking feature is the monumental Porta Rosa, the oldest and most complete example of a Greek arched town gate. Among other noteworthy features are the imposing defensive walls of the acropolis from the 6th century BC, the fine paved street and the remains of several temples. When the Phocaeans abandoned their coastal site, the remaining inhabitants of Velia established a new town inland. Novi Velia is typical of the medieval towns of Cilento: they are built on strategically defensive sites on hilltops and on the ancient communications routes along the mountain ridges. The houses cluster round a central castle or watchtower, the other prominent feature being the church, and in some cases a monastic group. Of the monastic properties, the most impressive is the Certosa di San Lorenzo at Padula in the Vallo di Diano. Construction began in 1306, but in its present form it is essentially Baroque, built in the 17th and 18th centuries.