The golden age of Magna Graecia in Basilicata, discovering the Ionian Coast

Metaponto, vestiges of ancient splendour

Thirty-five kilometres of blue sea lapping the coastline of fine golden sand characterise the Ionian coast of Basilicata, where the intense colour of the water blends with the vivid green of the Mediterranean scrub.
The extraordinary fertility of the Ionian coastline has been known since antiquity. Indeed, the coastal area between the Bradano and Basento rivers was chosen by Greek settlers around eight centuries before Christ to found Metapontum, today’s Metaponto. According to the geographer Strabo, it was the Greek hero Nestor, returning from the Trojan War, who gave life to the city.
The Greek colonists were merchants, farmers, livestock breeders, artisans, who decided to emigrate in the interest of establishing new commercial activities, but the motivation to leave Greece was also due to social tensions generated by the increase in population that the meagre local agricultural production could no longer support.
Thanks to the extraordinary fertility of its countryside, Metapontum soon became one of the most powerful cities of Magna Graecia, as the colonised areas of the Italian peninsula were called, testifying to the pride of the Greek colonists in having created a community that had reached such high levels in the social, cultural and economic spheres that it could be considered, by comparison, greater than the mother country itself.
Metapontum immediately became an important agricultural and commercial centre, but the Greek settlers also imported Hellenic culture, so that art, literature and philosophy flourished in the newly founded cities in addition to trade. Metapontum itself was chosen by the great Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who held a school here in 490 BC and lived here until his death.
The Ionian Sea tells of flourishing trade, but also of great battles. Over the years, it was sailed by fleets of ships and there were many wars between the numerous colonies on the Ionian coast and the local populations. With the Hannibalic wars and the arrival of the Romans, the splendour of Metapontum was overshadowed. The Romans conquered the area and built an encampment there, traces of which remain until the 4th century AD.
Today, that ancient splendour is reflected in the numerous finds, ruins and buildings that make the city one of the most important archaeological sites in Italy. The symbol of Metaponto, a hamlet of Bernalda, and its archaeological park are undoubtedly the Tavole Palatine (‘Palatine Tables’). Fifteen columns remain of the temple of Hera, wife and sister of Zeus, built in the 6th century in the Doric style, making it one of the greatest testimonies of worship in Magna Graecia.
In addition to the Palatine Tables, the Archaeological Park contains the remains of the temples of Apollo Lycius, Aphrodite and Athena, part of the agora, the artisanal district for the production of ceramics (kerameikos) and the great north-south road axis (plateia). Not far away you can also admire the agora dedicated to Zeus, the site of public buildings used for meetings and gatherings, and the large theatre with its semicircular cavea.
Traces of a considerable number of monuments that marked the civil and religious life of the colony are recognisable throughout.

The National Archaeological Museum of Metaponto

The artefacts found, not only in the area of the archaeological park but also in other areas of Metapontum, are kept in the National Archaeological Museum of Metaponto.
This important cultural venue presents the reconstruction of the archaeological framework of the Metapontine area, which is one of the most authoritative examples of the culture and history of Magna Graecia.
The exhibition space houses numerous exhibits from different historical periods, the oldest of which date back to prehistoric times and consist of various objects and furnishings found in grave goods, including jewellery and high-quality bronze and ivory objects; these refer to the earliest stages of settlement by the Oenotrian and Chonians during the Middle Bronze and Iron Ages. In addition to the section on prehistory, there are other sections, starting with the one on the arrival of Greek settlers during the 7th century BC, which shows the creation of the colony starting from the occupation of the territory to the formation and development of the city. The next section is devoted to the intermingling of the Greeks and the indigenous population, other sections of the Museum deal with the Greek colonies of Siris and Herakleia and the Italic world of the Agri and Sinni valleys, the last shows the changes brought about by the arrival of the Romans until the gradual abandonment of Metapontum. Most of the exhibits are pottery artefacts, the most important and beautiful being the censer with a stem decorated with animals and mythological scenes from the Incoronata site in Pisticci.


The golden atmosphere of Magna Graecia also pervades Policoro, the ancient Herakleia in the Siritide region near Siris. Policoro was one of the most important centres of antiquity due to its strategic position, which allowed it to play an active role in trading of the time. The city also played a leading military role, in fact it was the scene of the most famous battle of Pyrrhus against the Roman army in 280 BC.
Some vestiges of Hellenic splendour remain today in the Archaeological Park which includes the remains of the acropolis of Herakleia dating from 433-32 BC, where the ruins of the temple dedicated to Demeter can be seen.

The National Archaeological Museum of Siritide

The most significant findings relating to the Greek cities of Siris and Herakleia are collected and exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Siritide. Noteworthy are the treasures of coins and jewels, including precious amber and coral jewellery, and the impressive grave goods found in the tomb of the “Policoro painter” which includes 23 vases with scenes referring to Greek mythology.
In addition to exhibits of Hellenic origin, the museum also displays artefacts from prehistoric and medieval times. The first excavation were carried out by the well-known archaeologist Dino Adamesteanu in the 1960s.
Along the exhibition route, votive statuettes and grave goods from the 7th-6th century BC are displayed in showcases, with locally produced figured pottery, among the oldest made in Magna Graecia, dating from the Siris phase.. The Herakleia phase yields important grave goods from the 4th-3th century BC, characterised by splendid red-figure ceramics and refined filigree gold jewellery, some of which was produced by local workshops.

The WWF Oasis Bosco Pantano di Policoro

An ideal destination for a relaxing holiday among archaeology, sea and nature, Policoro offers a wide range of tourist activities. Mountain lovers can immerse themselves in the uncontaminated nature of the oasis protected by the WWF of the Bosco del Pantano wood, where you can enjoy tree and flower species of enormous naturalistic, scientific and scenic value due to their rarity. Here you can also admire some rare fauna species, such as the Caretta Caretta sea turtles, which have chosen the wide expanses of soft, fine sand bathed by the wonderful crystal-clear, clean sea of Policoro as their breeding ground. Inside the oasis you can go trekking on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, or simply relax in the areas equipped for a break or a picnic. There are also many outdoor activities such as golf, sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, diving in the depths of the Ionian Sea as well as sport fishing.

Last but not least, the tourist port of Marina di Policoro, considered to be the largest and best equipped in the Ionian Sea. The port offers around 750 berths and offers services and assistance to the boats that land there.