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Tomb of the Diver, a Dive into History

I have a soft spot for Europe. I love to travel and visit interesting places.

Paestum, Italy

Early 2019 I spent a holiday with my wife in Salerno, a city about a 1-hour car drive south of Naples. From this picturesque location, the Amalfi Coast is easily accessible by car or bus and in the primary season even by boat.
But no matter how beautiful the Amalfi coast is and how much there is to tell about Salerno, I want to discuss the Tomb of the Diver.

You can find the Tomb of the Diver in Paestum. The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three ancient Greek temples dating from about 600 to 450 BC. The Greeks built these Doric temples in archaic style. They are still in unbelievable condition.

The excavation of The tomb of the Diver took place in 1968.
You can take a look at it in the museum at Paestum.
It is one of the most beautiful artifacts I have ever seen.

To get there, we took the train from Salerno that stops in Paestum. It is a short, smooth train ride from the central station in Salerno that takes you to Paestum in about 45 minutes.

We enjoyed the leisurely stroll directly out of the train station that gets you to the Parc and museum in about 15 to 20 minutes. We both love to walk and to put in some effort to get to our destination for the day. After all, this only raises the level of suspense.

Both the park and the museum were breathtaking to see. You can lose yourself in this part of Italy contemplating time.
We imagined how people lived here over 2500 years ago, while we stood inside these magnificent temples. We walked along the ancient roads among the foundations of this once major city of Magna Graecia.

Where To Find The Tomb Of The Diver

The Archeological Parc At Paestum

In the seventh century B.C., the Greeks founded a colony in the south of Italy under the name Poseidonia. Two centuries later, the Lucanians conquered the city. Much later in 273 A.D., the Romans took over the town and gave the place the name Paestum. Historians consider Paestum one of the most important archaeological sites from the Greek/Roman period. This is partly due to the well-preserved temples but also because of a find in 1968. In that year, an archaeologist found the tomb of the Diver. In this tomb, they found the oldest known Greek mural.

In ancient times Paestum was an important Greek city, and its name then was Poseidonia. It owes its current name to the Romans. In the park, you can find three temples at 300 meters distance from each other and plenty of other excavations. They guard the site like sentries from a distant past.

The oldest temple was dedicated to Hera. Researchers called this temple the Basilica for a long time because the Romans used it as "basilica" (= place of meeting). The second temple is called the Neptune temple, or Poseidon temple (the Greek counterpart of the Roman god Neptune), but finds from the temple would show that this temple was dedicated to Hera as well. However, some historians believe that it was a temple dedicated to Zeus or Apollo. The third temple is attributed to the goddess Ceres, but this temple was probably once intended for the goddess Athena.

I have to be honest. I hardly know anything about architecture and roman/greek history. I have to rely on what I read and hear.
Yet, for me, as a layman, it is clear that these are ancient temples of a culture for which you have to go 2500 years back in time. This is already difficult for me to comprehend.

But, the beauty of these ruins and the power they still radiate today do silence you.

Parco Archeologico di Paestum

Parco Archeologico di Paestum

Parco Archeologico di Paestum

Parco Archeologico di Paestum

Parco Archeologico di Paestum

Parco Archeologico di Paestum

Parco Archeologico di Paestum

Parco Archeologico di Paestum

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum

The Paestum Archaeological Museum boasts a rich collection. It exhibits many finds from the Greek period of Paestum. A highlight is the so-called 'tomb of the diver,' a tomb painted on the inner sides for a (young?) man from circa 480 BC. One of the images shows a man diving from a diving tower; another depicts a symposium. The colors of these paintings are well preserved, and the tomb is one of the very rare examples of Greek painting.

We felt privileged when a museum curator showed us around the museum's catacombs. We were even allowed to touch a journal describing the finds of an excavation and some antique objects. I hardly dared to hold them because I was afraid to let them fall out of my hands. Imagine. A vase survives for 2500 years underground only to drop out of the hands of a clumsy Dutchman.

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National Archaeological Museum of Paestum

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum

Tomb Of The Diver


The tomb of the Diver is a famous archaeological monument found by the Italian archaeologist Mario Napoli on June 3, 1968, at the excavation of a small cemetery about 1.5 km south of the Greek town of Paestum Magna Grecia, in southern Italy. At the moment, the grave is on display in the museum of Paestum.

Description of the tomb

This is a tomb consisting of five limestone slabs of local travertine, which, at the time of the discovery, were precisely connected and joined together. The bottom of the box is made of the same foundation on which the grave was built.

The five plates together with plaster formed a chamber with an estimated size of 215 x 100 x 80 cm. The plates that are part of the monument were painted on the inside with the same technique used for frescoes.

The five slabs we can now look at in the museum were not made for us to see. Shortly after 500 BC, they were painted on the inner walls of the tomb. They were meant to be locked in the dark forever.

In the interior of the tomb, only a few objects were found. Near the corpse (believed to be a young man despite the deteriorated condition of the skeleton) were a turtle, two aryballoi, and a lekythos. This last object, in the black-digit technique of about 480 BC, helped the discoverer and other scholars to date the tomb from about 470 BC.

Tomb Of The Diver

Tomb Of The Diver

Tomb Of The Diver

Tomb Of The Diver

Murals In The Tomb Of The Diver

The frescos of the four walls show a symposium (banqueting) scene. During banquets, the diners discussed politics, they sang, and played music. They also allowed themselves to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh. The ceiling tile contains the famous scene that gives its name to the tomb: a naked young man diving into the rippling water.

The murals in the tomb are in perfect condition. The frescoes were made in 480 BC and showed, among other things, a feast with half-naked men with wreaths in their hair. On the capstone, a man dives into the water from a tower, a distinctive depiction. Other images include a flute player, a wine donor, and reclining men.

All five slab shapes of the monument were painted on the inner sides using a real fresco technique.

Tomb Of The Diver

Tomb Of The Diver

What Does The Image Of The Diver Symbolize?

We were asking ourselves what the image of the diver means. Could the diving be a metaphor for the passage from life to death?

The philosophy of Pythagoras, with its ideas of moderation, the immortality of the soul and reincarnation, spread in southern Italy and was popular there.

  • Does the scene with the diver depict a symbol of resurrection as Pythagoras liked it?
  • Does the dive breath the resurrection spirit of the Pythagoreans.
  • Does this dive into the primordial sea illustrate the return to the heavenly homeland, which the soul undertakes after death?
  • Does the figure of 'The diver' symbolize the journey of the soul through the Unknown, beyond all place and time?

Frankly, I don't know. But somehow, the diver caught our attention. And we found the frescos very intriguing.

Have you visited Paestum?

Would you like to visit Paestum?

Fond Memories

We have a Google Home Hub in our living room displaying pictures from our 2019 trip to Italy. Every time I walk past the display and see one of the pictures we took, I immediately find myself in a happy place.

For tourists like me, Italy is a treasure chest. But for Italy preserving all their historical sites can be a financial burden.

I do hope they will manage it in years to come. The world will be thankful.

Do you have fond memories of Italy? Please share them in your comments.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Raymond Philippe


Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on March 24, 2020:

Thanks, Peggy for dropping by and leaving a comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 24, 2020:

Those are fabulous frescos from the Tomb of the Diver. I can see why they named it such. Thanks for sharing this information with us. Your photos and that video really brought it to life for those of us who may never get there to view it in person.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on March 13, 2020:

Italy is in a dark place right now. I too hope they will be able to open up their beautiful country again after the virus.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 12, 2020:

This was simply stunning — not only your description but also your amazing photos. When they open Italy back up after the virus, I’d like to visit. However it’s be after I’m sure everything is healthy.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on March 12, 2020:

Milan is well worth a visit. I’m glad you enjoyed this info.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 12, 2020:

I have been to Milan for a day and a day in Triesta and it was a rush through no time to explore but I enjoyed my first night in Milan was amazing. This information was most helpful.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on March 12, 2020:

Thanks for commenting. I’m glad it brought back good memories.

Liz Westwood from UK on March 11, 2020:

It is many years since I was last in Italy. Your article reminds me of the rich historical sites there are there. Maybe one day I will get to return and explore a little more.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on March 11, 2020:

Thanks for the thumbs up Kyler.

Kyler J Falk from California on March 11, 2020:

Such a beautiful country, and so rich in history. Your article has definitely put the tomb of the diver on my radar and should I ever get the opportunity to visit you can bet I'll be giving this article the credit for it!

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