The enclosed site contains the three temples (all built facing east) and a number of other ruins that were part of the sacred area at the center of the ancient Greek town. The Tempio di Hera (or Temple to Hera, commonly known as the Basilica) is the oldest of the three structures and was built in 550 B.C. in Doric-Archaic style. The 50 columns of its monumental portico are still standing and show the pot-bellied profile typical of archaic temples, but the roof and the pediment collapsed long ago. In front is a partially ruined sacrificial altar and, on its side, the square bothros -- the sacrificial well where the remains were thrown. Based on the rich trove of findings in the immediate area, experts now believe that the temple and surrounding structures were actually part of a huge complex dedicated to Hera, the goddess of fertility and maternity (who is also honored in the Sanctuary of Hera Argiva). Indeed, several other smaller religious buildings, all dedicated to Hera, have been discovered nearby. The complex is to the south of the archaeological area, near the secondary entrance.
To the right of the basilica is the Tempio di Nettuno or Temple of Neptune, possibly dedicated to Poseidon or, according to a more recent theory, to Apollo or Zeus. This grandiose building, dating from around 450 B.C., is lined in travertine stone and glows a magical gold color when hit by the sun's rays. It is considered the best example of a Doric temple in the world, with its perfect proportions and a number of architectural tricks -- the columns at the corners have an elliptical section instead of round, and the horizontal lines are slightly convex instead of perfectly straight -- giving it slender elegance and power at the same time. It is also the best preserved of Paestum's temples: only the roof and the internal walls are missing. At the temple's front are two sacrificial altars; the smaller was added by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C.
The third temple, the Tempio di Cerere (Temple of Ceres), stands near the main entrance to the archaeological area. The smallest of the three, it was built at the end of the 6th century B.C., probably in honor of the Goddess Athena. Transformed into a church in medieval times, inside its portico are three Christian tombs. Between here and the Basilica is the Roman Forum. The forum was the hub of any Roman city and this one was enclosed on four sides by a covered colonnade with taverns and shops of which little remains today. Nearby, at the edge of Via Magna Grecia, is the Roman Amphitheatre. The Via Sacra (Sacred Street) runs arrow straight through the length of the site, connecting all three temples, its Roman pavement laid over the original Greek road. When it was built, the road continued for about 12km (7 1/2 miles), to connect the Greek town of Poseidonia with the Sanctuary of Hera.