Velia: an incredible view !Many have been on holiday to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Cuma, Pozzuoli, the internationally renowned archaeological sites of Campania, and, without a doubt, many have been to the Amalfi coast, and savoured the delights of the beauty spots of Amalfi, Sorrento, Positano; but few have visited Paestum. Hardly anyone has heard of Velia Elea Yele, a great, ancient Greek town in the National Park of Cilento. Even if you were endowed with the wildest imagination, you would still never manage to picture its grandeur. So read these pages to give yourself at least an inkling of what it was like. Or why not come on holiday here to see it for yourself, and discover the other marvels that Cilento holds ?


The Famous Agewin Tower builded over the Greek TempleIn 2000 B.C. the Island of Crete was the commercial centre of the Mediterranean. Until 1600 B.C. the Cretan civilization made a prodigious contribution to the world of commerce and culture. At that time Crete was at the centre of Mediterranean life. The Cretans built the best ships the world had ever seen and dominated the maritime trade of the entire area. After a period of decline, in about 1600 B.C., influenced by the Greek Myceneans, Crete made a further development. Linear writing was invented. However, around 1450 B.C. the Achaeans - a people who in the meantime had taken control of Mycenean Greece - destroyed the Cretan hegemony. The Achaeans gained great power, shown by the conquest of Troy in 13thC B.C., an event immortalized in Homer's poem. In the course of 12thC B.C. all the ancient oriental civilizations collapsed under the joint impact of internal revolts and external attacks. These were carried out by peoples who had been subjugated up till that point. The Dorians invaded Greece, and the Cretan and Mycenean civilizations were wiped out. A lengthy period of decline ensued, known as the Hellenic Middle Ages (12th-8thC B.C.). In this era a merchant and fishing people became the main metal supplier in the Mediterranean : the Phoenicians. They were among the most expert sailors who had ever lived, and their ships were even better than those built by the Cretans. These vessels allowed them to create commercial bases in Asia Minor, on the Aegean islands of Samos, Khios, Naxos, and Amorgos, in the Attican and Hebean regions.They were the first to explore the Western Mediterranean. The vast scale of trade necessitated the invention of alphabetical writing and money. Subsequently, at the beginning of 9thC B.C. the commercial hegemony of the Phoenician cities diminished, and the larger part of Asia Minor trade passed into the hands of Greek merchants. This created a powerful new impulse that brought the entire Greek world out of the Hellenic Middle Ages, and into the splendour of 8thC B.C.. Thus new trade colonies sprang up in Asia Minor, like the powerful city of Miletus. The city of Phocaea was to be found beside this, in about 8thC B.C.. The population of Phocaea were natives of an inland region of Greece, the Phocide. The city rose up on a headland, a little to the north of Ermo; and in front of the most northern offshoot of the Smirne Peninsula. In this period new Greek cities were also founded in the Western Mediterranean and in Italy, forming the so-called Magna Graecia.


La famosa Torre angioina ed il villaggio arcaico a struttura poligonaleIt is widely acknowledged that the Greek colonies were founded by groups of extremely courageous and intelligent people. Often it was the entire population of a town that emigrated en masse, in search of a new life. Before leaving, the colonists would carry out sacred rites to propitiate the gods, and would also choose a leader; they would take a sacred flame and a clod of earth from their own town or village with them, a symbol of eternal spiritual ties between the colonists and the motherland. When they arrived at the desired destinaition, the colonists would try to take possession of a high ground not far from the sea, so they could defend themselves better if the native people turned hostile; or they would sometimes occupy a nearby island, and then move from there to the mainland; or they would choose a place close to an inlet or at the mouth of a river. They would then fortify the chosen place with walls, and would immediately begin to build an altar or temple in honour of the overseeing divinity, trying all the while, as far as they could, to stay on friendly terms with the natives.Sailors who had preceded them, mainly concerned with commerce, had given the colonists a rough idea of what these lands had to offer, and of the warm welcome the local people would give them. Few Greek colonies were founded from scratch as there was almost always an existing populace already there; it usually meant the colonists blending in with the natives, and a new power gradually replacing the old. The Greek colonies, despite being made up of independent communitites in respect to the motherland, managed to maintain commercial and cultural exchanges, and, often good political relations; they kept traditions, customs, religious rites, language, political structures from the motherland, and, little by little, they added to this common Greek model to create and develop a unique civilization, which had very distinct physical features. Between 7th and 6thC B.C., the Mediterranean and Black Seas became Greek colony seas, and formed a "Greek world". Colonies sprang up along Asia Minor's coastlines, and the shores of the Black Sea, and also, after a second wave of colonization to the West, along the Mediterranean coasts. The Phocaean colonists, who were the most daring, ventured even further amd founded Massalia (Marseilles), which soon became a focal point for the spread of Greek culture and civilization in, the then, France and Spain. The beginning of Greek colonial expansion in Italy dates back to the second half of 8thC B.C.. Greek colonization took place along the coasts of Sicily and Southern Italy, up as far as the Gulf of Taranto on the Ionian side, and as far as the Campania coastline on the Tyrrhenian side. There were smaller colonial settlements along the Adriatic. However, the Greeks never managed to ethnically strip the Italian people (not even in the hinterland where they had complete control), often they merged with them, so that there is an Italo-Greek civilization so to speak of. Towards 5thC B.C. the name Magna Graecia, Mighty Greece, was given to the Greek colonies in Southern Italy. Such a name didn't infer a superiority over the motherland, but over the other colonies. The Greek colonies in Italy developed magnificent artistic and spiritual forces, and made a remarkable contribution to the history of art. Writing was spread in Italy by the colonists, whose works in civilization in the Italian territory constitute one of the most fascinating chapters of Mediterranean antiquity.


La famosa Porta RosaThe Acropolis of the city, seat of power in accordance with Mycenean tradition, was no longer able to control all of the urban territory. As what had happened in Miletus, the fishermen and saltmine owners were the first to set themselves up independently; followed by the manufacturers who worked gold and made bronze ornaments, and, more notably, iron weapons and armour. Therefore a class of independent merchants was created, like the entrepreneurs of today's society. These Phocaean merchants were very skilful sailors. They had inherited all the maritime expertise and boatbuilding techniques of, firstly, the Cretans, and then the Phoenicians, who came after. Like this latter people, they had explored the entire Mediterranean, and undoubtedly along their various routes had established numerous well equipped landing places, some already had been used by the Phoenicians themselves. One of these was Velia-Elea right up to the Persian conquest of Phocaea in 545 B.C.; this was considering the avourable situation of the coast at that time, the position of Cilento with regards to the rest of the Southern Tyrrhenian coastline, from Reggio up to Pozzuoli; and, moreover, considering the navigation techniques of the period. They bought slaves, gold, copper, tin, and iron for these entrepreneurs who then resold them in Egypt and Lydia. The ironworks produced weapons of the highest quality. Phocaean iron swords, shields and armour became famous in a short time, and could be bought everywhere. It is clear that the Phocaeans were the main weapon producers of the period and were in competition with the Etruscans.Greek sword between 7thC and 4thC BC The swords were particularly appreciated, and formed a major part of the armies equipment in that period. Besides that, ornaments of gold and other precious metals were produced. The Phocaeans also imported the base metal from Lydia which was used to make coins. In fact Phocaea was the second town in Greece after Miletus to make coins in this way, in about 630 B.C.. Along with metals and products (grain, olive oil, almonds, dried figs and wine, the last of which came from Lydia), the famous Miletus tunic was also traded: this was made of very fine wool, dyed purple and saffron, and adorned with gold braid and clasps. This soon became a sign of social distinction and refinement in the whole region, compulsory dress of sovereigns, courtiers and rich landowners. In the surrounding areas of Phocaea business was flourishing, and often this created a great rivalry between them. This was the case in Chalcis, the main town of Euboea. Besides the sale of his famous wool, the town's merchants became rich selling the island's copper and iron to the Etruscans. From the Etruscans they then bought products with an iron metal finish - especially swords, shields and armour, and bronze ornaments - and resold them throughout Asia Minor. And so, the people of Chalcis were in fierce competition with the Phocaeans, and a large commercial war began between the two cities. In short, Phocaea had commercial fights with many cities; up to that point the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations led the world.Velia coins - inscription Yeleton The extent of the commercial wars between the Phocaeans and the Etruscans, or, between Phocaea and the other cities can be compared to those between Microsoft and Netscape, or between the Western and Asian car manufacturers, for example. Chalcis had also opened the way to Greek colonization in Italy, leading to the foundation of Cuma (760 B.C.), Zancle, nearby present day Messina (757 B.C.), Taormina (734 B.C.), and Reggio (718B.C.). Chalcis used its own colonies as landings for trade and military ships, like the Phocaeans had done with Alalia and Marseilles; and it also strategically used Reggio to stop the Phocaeans from crossing the Messina strait, because of the aforementioned commercial war. Therefore Phocaea looked to circumnavigation of Sicily as an alternative, and found an ally in the city of Sibaris, a Greek colony situated in the Italian Gulf of Taranto. It was a very powerful city, founded in approximately 8thC B.C., and in 7thC B.C. it controlled twenty towns, two of which, Lao and Scidro (modern day Scalea), were on the Southern Lucanian coast, near Cilento. Phocaea could transport its merchandise through Sibaris, and its Tyrrhenian colonies without crossing the Messina strait. This was how Phocaea beat Chalcis in the centuries-old commercial and political duel. The Phocaeans made use of the Tyrrhenien colonies and Sibaris to carry out a massive commercial penetration into the Western Mediterranean. In 595 B.C. they founded the colony of Marseilles, the first city in France. This quickly became a densely populated city, equipped with a naval landing that was of vital importance to the Phocaean ships that were en route to Spain, in search of tin. The Phocaean colony of Rode was created in exactly 585 B.C. Finally in 565 B.C. they founded the colony of Alalia in Corsica as a setting down place on the way to Marseilles and Rode. Now you have an idea of the greatness, ability and efficiency of the founders of Velia Elea.


The thermae adrianeeIn the meantime the Persian Empire had become very powerful. Ciro the Great proposed a formal act of submission to the Greek cities in Asia Minor. Only Miletus accepted; and so Arpagos, the general of the Persian army, destroyed the Greek colonies in Asia Minor, one by one. In 545 B.C. Phocaea was razed to the ground, with the clear aim of wiping it from history. Only a group of townspeople managed to save themselves.As they were very able sailors, equipped with a reliable fleet, they managed to flee into the Mediterranean, and distributed themselves between Marseilles and Alalia; and perhaps some of them settled near the ancient landing place of Elea-Velia. The Phocaeans, despite having lost their homeland, remained a strong merchant power whose centre had transferred itself to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The metal and ship industries were moved and reorganised in Alalia, and probably some also in Elea-Velia, even though no traces of them have been found as yet. Marseilles became a base for business envoys on their way to get metals from Spain and Africa. At this point the Phocaeans business interests became incompatible with those of the Etruscans. The Etruscans metal production had always given stiff competition to the Phocaeans, previously through the city of Chalcis, and now the Tyrrhenian shores. For this reason the Etruscans allied themselves to the Carthaginians, who were of Phoenician origin and had settled on the North African coast, and began an unrelenting war with the Phocaeans. In 535 B.C. the Carthaginian and Etruscan fleets destroyed the Phocaean one near the Corsican coast, not far from Alalia (modern day Aleria); and then their soldiers stormed and destroyed the same town. The Phocaeans who had settled on Corsica abandoned the island. Some of them were received by the people of Chalcis in Cuma; others moved to Elea - Velia - on the Cilentan coastline. The old rivalry between the Phocaeans and the people of Chalcis disappeared when faced with the threat of the Etruscans totally destroying the Greek colonies in the Tyrrhenian. Nine years later, in 542 B.C., the Etruscans attacked Cuma. However, this time, the Phocaeans and people of Chalcis united and annihilated the Etruscan fleet in Cuma waters. The Battle of Cuma was very important as it saved Greek colonization in the Tyrrhenian area from destruction.It wasn't, however, the beginning of a reconquest. Corsica was never retaken by the Greeks, and the metal business remained in the hands of the Etruscans alone. Marseilles and the other colonies survived only because they renounced their affairs in the metal industry; otherwise the Etruscans and Carthaginians would have easily destroyed them. The decline of Greek commercial power in the Tyrrhenian caused Sibaris to weaken, which was the go-between for Asia Minor trade to the whole Mediterranean basin. In the end, due to certain circumstances, Sibaris was destroyed by Crotone and Metaponto in 510 B.C. The people of Sibaris, like the Phocaeans, managed to flee with their ships, and in the south they founded a magnificent new town on the Tyrrhenian coast, Poseidonia, which is modern day Paestum.


When you consider the Thyrrhenian southern coastline at that time, between Sapri, which was already inhabited by a Sibarite nucleus, and Cuma, founded by the people of Chalcis, the only possible settlement was the natural inlet between the promontory of Elea-Velia, on which the Acropolis is positioned to the south, the hills of Casalvelino to the north, and stretching inwards for about 5 km.. The town of Elea-Velia expands quickly after 535 B.C.. Elea-Velia's promontory is situated in the innermost part of the wide gulf, that is between Licosa Point and the Cape of Palinuro. It is a marvellous spot, filled with olive trees, up on a promontory that is wedged into the Tyrrhenian Sea, and has a breathtaking view. In short, due to its position,its highly experienced sailors,its commercial interests in saltmining and fishing, Velia becomes an important economic centre, well-known in Sicily and France. It has one of the best ports in the Tyrrhenian, offering an ample stopover point to cargo ships, immediately north of the Acropolis; and a fully equipped dock for the unloading of merchandise, just to the south of the same Acropolis. Since the Phocaeans no longer have dealings in the metal business, Elea-Velia doesn't have any inclination for expansion and enjoys excellent relations with the neighbouring native peoples. This time of reflection, so to speak, leads to the blossoming of a particular philosophical trend, culminating in the works of Pythagoras' follower, Parmenides; and also a prestigious medical school, a foundation block of the Salerno Medical School of the following centuries.


The extension of the excavation areaThe promontory was the first urban settlement, organised on a road axis that linked the promontory with its slopes, where there were two gates. The first houses were built using techniques typical to the Mediterranean region the colonists came from. An important change was made in about 480 B.C. with the demolition of this most ancient area in order to build a large temple, which brought about the transformation of the Acropolis into a sanctuary. The inhabited area stretched far down the hillside, with two districts arranged on terraces, the one south of the Acropolis- better known because of excavations carried out there- shows signs of a heavy concentration of defences in the harbour area, equipped also with arsenals. The two districts were linked by a road, that wound onto a ridge east of the Acropolis before sloping down the hill. On the highest part of the ridge a tall, rounded arch was erected, the famous Porta Rosa, Rose Gate, that is a fine example of 4thC B.C. Greek architecture. Therefore we are in a position today to picture, with some guesswork involved, what these places were actually like when the Phocaeans arrived there returning from Alalia: a promontory that jutted out into the sea and was delimited by two creeks into which three streams flowed, and, at the shoulders of which, in the hinterland, a semi-circle wall of hills and mountains, with few, not easily traversed ways that protected the area against any possible threat from inland.This much illustrated place, that was so suitable and perfect, would make you think that it had been inhabited for many years. Definitely in the following centuries it was much taken advantage of by all the different people who traded along the Tyrrhenian coasts, or by those in transit, heading along commercial routes to France and Spain. So, taking into account, the extreme scarcity of suitable landing places sheltered from the forceful south-westerly and north-westerly winds that raged along the Southern Tyrrhenian shores; and also equipped with the most advanced naval technology of the time. Therefore, it is difficult to think that the Velia promontory was completely uninhabited. Herodotus' account does not mention the contrasts between the Phocaeans and the local people at the time of the town's foundation. Two reasons clearly explain this : 1) The logic of Greek colonization; 2) The sure presence of a nucleus, however small and without any organised urban system. A place of commercial logistic and technical support for the Phocaean fleet travelling from Asia Minor shores towards the business destinations of Marseilles and Rode. The changing face of the town can be traced through five phases: 1) The settling of the town, the first fortifications, first public monuments (the Archaic Gate, Rose Gate, the wall by the Rose Gate, the wall by the Rose Gate road, the gate at the road to the port, the western wall of the southern Marina Gate, the square with the pagan altar, the Temple in the Acropolis, and the first layout of the Acropolis) from the end of 6th to mid 5thC. B.C.. 2) The development of the defence system with a unitary city-wall (Castelluccio, the Rose Gate, the fortifications to the east of Castelluccio, the Tower in the harbour area, the Muoio della Civitella fortifications, the city streets) in the mid 5th-6thC B.C.. 3) The partial rebuilding of the lower part of the town, after the event of a flood (the blocking of the Rose Gate, Agora, transformation of the southern area of the harbour in 3rd-2ndC B.C.). 4) After a flood (approximately 62 A.D.) the southern areas were rebuilt in the Hadrian years (baths, Insula the first and Second's changes, Insula the First's urban villa, a total overhaul of the network of roads by raising the altitude (in 2ndC A.D.). 5) The late Ancient and Byzantine age, when constructions were built with re-used materials, and with less respect to urban planning, in 4th-6thC A.D..

Le mura fortificate della zona portualeIn conclusion, written sources allow us to deduce that Velia : 1) lived primarily on fishing industry and definitely had saltworks and warehouses to preserve the fish in; 2) In 44 B.C. it had two efficient slipways linked by a road; 3) In the age of Servius (or perhaps just of his writings) it was surrounded by marshes; 4) Along the coast, in front of the promontory, there were two Enotride islands, each having an anchorage. Velia hadn't been just aplace to flee to for the Phocaeans; but was at first, already in the first half of 7thC B.C. and even before, a safe landing place and a stopping point that led the Phocaean ships, sailing from Greece, across the Messina strait- or else the circumnavigation of Sicily, after the founding of Reggio from part of Chalcis- to Marseilles in France, and Rode in Spain. The destruction of Phocaea changed the course of their long distance voyages from the Aegean to the Tyrrhenian. After the Battle of Alalia, the Phocaeans finally made Velia their town, and the main centre of maritime trade. Despite its humble beginnings, it grew to enjoy prosperity from France to Sicily; and to become a centre rich in culture, philosophy and religion, that were totally unique to the Tyrrhenian.

At the end, what can we say ? It is incredible that an ancient archaelogic site bigger than Pompeii and Herculaneum sites togheter is virtually unknown. This is due to the bad management of last years, especially between 1970 and 1990. Now a new course is raising on: the new excavations promise wonderful discoveries. The northern quarter is not yet known; where is the local fleet ? How many ships are under the sand of Alentum river outlet ? These and many other questions will be clarified surely in the next years. In the meantime we have a lot to see and a lot to enjoy here. Have a nice trip !

The holiday accommodation - self-catering apartments to rent - flats to let - holiday homes of Villa Prato in Cilento are 45 minutes by car from Paestum excavation area and Paestum museum.

Velia news: a whole necropolis discovered in velia !

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