With its three magnificent large Doric temples, Paestum became a well-known site thanks to the 18th century engravings by Piranesi and Goethe’s impressive descriptions in his Italian Journey. However Paestum is also renowned for its tombs decorated with painted scenes. During excavations in the 1960s, around 200 richly painted tombs from the Lucanian period (4th century B.C.) were discovered in a small necropolis about a kilometre north immediately outside the city walls.
The tombs were painted on the inside with scenes depicting funerals and the passage of the dead into the underworld. They were executed on site right after the four slabs had been put in place in the pit. These paintings were executed using a technique resembling fresco. A thin layer of plaster was applied to a smoothed travertine slab. This style of tomb decoration blossomed under the Lucanians, a native people from mainland Italy who took over the city around 400 B.C. The scenes depict funerary games and rituals; the deceased on his/her deathbed, chariot racing, hunting scenes and duals between men.
One particularly richly decorated tomb is the so-called Tomb of the Diver. The tomb, which dates to around 480 B.C., is unique in the Greek colonies in Italy. The significance of this particular tomb is that it contains the only example of Greek wall painting from the Archaic, or Classical period to survive in its entirety. It is made of five limestone blocks forming the four lateral walls and the roof, the floor being excavated in the natural rock ground. The paintings on the four walls depict a symposium scene, while the cover slab shows the famous scene that gives the tomb its name: a young man diving into a curling and waving stream of water, the passage from life to death.
Here is a series of images from the Paestum Archaeological Museum collection of paintings, starting with some pictures of the Tomb of the Diver.