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‘Paestum – City of Goddesses’

Paestum - City of Goddesses

A new exhibition at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, from April 2024

On 25 April 2024, the exhibition ‘Paestum. City of Goddesses’ will open at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden – the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, in Leiden. This exhibition was created in close collaboration with the Ministero della Cultura – Parco Archeologico di Paestum e Velia, to bring an exceptional selection of archaeological finds from Paestum on loan to the Netherlands. Poseidonia, as Paestum was originally called, was founded around 600 BC on the Bay of Salerno in Southern Italy.

The exhibition focuses on the dynamic history and cultural diversity of the city, famous for its Greek temples. Highlights include a marble statue of the goddess Hera and eight unique frescoes from the tombs of Paestum’s elite. There are also figurines of terracotta, bronze and marble, incense burners, splendid pottery, fine glassware, coins, Greek bronze armour and numerous offerings for the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. ‘Paestum. City of Goddesses’ is the first retrospective exhibition to be held in the Netherlands on the archaeology of Paestum. Telling a story that lasted around a millennium, from the city’s founding to the Roman era, the exhibition will run until 25 August 2024.

City of goddesses

Paestum is one of many Greek cities to have been founded along the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Ionian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea from the 8th century BC onwards. The city was located on a fertile plain near a navigable river. Agriculture and shipping brought great wealth to Paestum, and Greek traditions and history soon merged with the local culture. This cultural diversity is highlighted in the exhibition, with a variety of archaeological finds and stories about exchange and interaction between the different communities. The veneration of the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite forms a connecting theme. Despite the diverse population, with various backgrounds and changing traditions, the temples and shrines of Paestum remained in use. From the 3rd century, the plain of Paestum was transformed into a marshland where malaria was prevalent, making the city uninhabitable. The last residents left in the 7th century AD, and built a new city in the hills. In their church they worshipped the Madonna del Granato, the successor to the goddesses of Poseidonia. In the end, the monumental Greek temples and huge city walls were the only recognisable remains of the original city in the landscape.

From Poseidonia to Paestum

The exhibition starts with the famous temples and the founding of Poseidonia (600 BC), with 3D architectural prints and reconstructions, original temple decorations, and unique 18th-century temple models made of cork. They are displayed in large-scale sets against the colourful hues of Southern Italian skies, in an attempt to capture the vastness of the landscape.

In multicultural Poseidonia, local Lucanians took power from the Greeks around 420 BC. The exhibition shows lavishly decorated tombs depicting Lucanian warriors, burial games and burial rituals. Characteristic fish plates from Campania and decorated drinking cups illustrate the daily life of the Greeks and Lucanians. The numerous terracotta offerings to the goddesses of the city provide insight into the religious practices of the time.

After it was conquered by Romans in 273 BC, the city was given the Latin name Paestum and underwent a metamorphosis. Many Greco-Lucanian buildings made way for monumental Roman architecture, and a new industry arose: the production of perfume from olive oil and roses. In Leiden, Roman statues, decorated tombstones and a display case full of precious perfume bottles highlight the Roman influence on the city.

In addition to the loans from the Ministero della Cultura – Parco Archeologico di Paestum e Velia and Leiden’s own collection, the exhibition features objects from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, Antikensammlung Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, National Numismatic Collection/De Nederlandsche Bank in Amsterdam, and the Allard Pierson in Amsterdam. ‘Paestum’ is the fifth exhibition in the National Museum of Antiquities’ series on important cities in the ancient world. It follows the crowd-pulling exhibitions on Petra (2013-2014), Carthage (2014-2015), Nineveh (2017-2018) and Byblos (2022-2023).

Accompanying the exhibition

Ruurd Halbertsma, curator of the exhibition, has compiled additional background stories in the audio tour (English/Dutch), the podcast series and the exhibition booklet ‘Paestum. Stad van godinnen’ (€12.50, Dutch). There will also be an issue of the RMO Magazine (€3.95, Dutch), interactive tours for secondary schools, and extra children’s activities during the school holidays. The ‘Paestum’ exhibition will be held at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden at the same time as the exhibition on ‘Roman villas in Limburg’.


The exhibition booklet was made possible by a contribution from Labrys Reizen. The National Museum of Antiquities is supported by the Vriendenloterij.

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden/National Museum of Antiquities

The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden brings archaeology and the ancient world to life. At the museum, everyone can explore the age-old civilisations of Egypt, the Classical World, the ancient Near East, and the Netherlands in prehistoric, Roman, and medieval times. The museum is located in Leidens historic centre, just a 10 minutes’ walk from Leiden Centraal railway station, at half an hour’s journey from Amsterdam.

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