The Roses of Paestum

June 11, 2008 / Places
Paestum was originally called Poseidonia, founded in 600 B.C. as a colony of Magna Grecia (Greater Greece). Its location was ideal: rivers, fertile land, and proximity to the trade routes; in less than a century the religious complex was already under construction.

Already in 29 B.C. Virgil referred to its beauty, and he also mentions its roses that “bloom and fade and bloom again.” Famous as a center of worship, it seems resins made from these flowers burned continuously on the temple altars and scented the air of the city.

The city eventually became important for its rose trade as well, surpassing Egypt in its capacity to supply Rome with winter roses. It is still hotly debated whether the roses were really twice-blooming or constant-blooming, a local species or an Asian varietal, but what is certain is that their scent was unrivaled.

Sometime in the 18th century the roses seem to have become extinct but experts today believe there are still traces in the living roses known as ‘Rival de Paestum’ and ‘Autumn Damask’ (pictured).

Many thanks to Michael D. Ciletti (and Monica McCormick) for the first photo, and to Dr.Faz Dusun for the final one.

Barbara Goldfield

by Barbara Goldfield

Owner of “Savour The Sannio”,, a travel consultancy for central and southern Italy.

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