Touring the Ancient City of Velia and its Archeological Sites

A province of Salerno that is currently part of the Mediterranean scrub and olive trees, Velia was a coastal city in the south of Italy. Located along the Tarentine Gulf, it was heavily populated by Greek settlers from Phocacea in the 8th century. Its popularity ensured its reputation as a trade hub, especially for salted and scented oils. Moreover, the city was the home of philosophers Parmenides and Zeno of Elea. Velia was also where the Eleatic school was established, attracting pre-Socratic philosophers early as the 5th century. However, it is the archeological site of Elea-Velia that makes the city an important tourist destination in Cilento Coast, reeling in 34,000 individuals annually.

AsceaVeliaDownsizedDeclared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the archeological site has undergone exploration for the past century and half. The picturesque city is yet to be fully uncovered though, indicating that there is much more to see in this beautiful city founded by the Greek refugees. Experts estimate the ancient city to be around 90 hectares and organized in districts along the natural slope of a hill. As a result, Velia flaunts one of the most complex defensive systems in the ancient world.

Visitors to Parco Archeologico di Velia (Archeological Park of Velia) enter the area from the southern sector from Porta Marina. Defended by a massive square tower, it leads to a paved road which visitors can use to head to the three-arm cryptoportico building dating to the Augustan period (BC 31 – AD 14). It is believed that the building may have been a gym, medical or sacellum, used for imperial purposes since it contained statues and herms (pillars topped with a carved head) depicting imperial family members and local doctors.

To the left of Porta Marina is a block which flaunts both a residential and commercial character. Four houses belonging to the Imperial Age were discovered in the area. These flaunted the architectural norms of the area, which were a central compartment and a tub of water to collect rain water. Moving further, visitors will come across la Masseria Cobellis, which is a public building that boasts symmetrical design across its two levels. A lot of the marble slabs covering the original brick stairs have been partially preserved, proving the lavish reputation which Velia flaunted over the years.

Tours of the area also include the baths on the end of Porta Rosa, where visitors can marvel at the beautiful mosaic with black and white tiles depicting animals and monsters. From there, they ascend to the Agora, which was recently acknowledged as a sanctuary dedicated to the medical and healing god Asclepius. The structure is distributed on three levels; the first is a larger rectangular body surrounded by a portico on three sides while the entrance is decorated with a fountain.

Parco archeologico di Velia has more to offer, such as the medieval tower of Velia which was built out of a Greek temple. Beyond the park, visitors can discover the seaside tourist destination Ascea, which is an enchanting sandy beach next to a clear sea. The area has attracted many historic Roman figures in the past, including Augustus while returning from the Orient. Therefore, a quick tour of the park’s home will never be a bad idea.

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Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.