The temple of Hera, built around 550 BC by Greek colonists, is the oldest surviving temple in Paestum. Eighteenth-century archaeologists named it “The Basilica” because they mistakenly believed it to be a Roman building. A basilica in Roman times was a civil building, not a religious one. Inscriptions revealed that the goddess worshiped here was Hera. Later, an altar was unearthed in front of the temple, in the open-air site usual for a Greek altar; the faithful could attend rites and sacrifices without entering the cella.
Just south of the city walls, at a site still called Santa Venera, a series of small terracotta offertory molded statuettes of a standing female nude wearing the polos headdress of Anatolian and Syrian goddesses, which were dated to the first half of the sixth century BC, were found in the sanctuary; other similar ones have been excavated at other Paestum sanctuaries during excavations in the 1980s, but the figure is highly unusual in the Western Mediterranean. The open-air temenos was established at the start of Greek occupation: a temple on the site was not built until the early fifth century. A nude goddess is a figure alien to Greek culture before Praxiteles’ famous Cnidian Aphrodite in the fourth century: iconographic analogies must be sought in Phoenician Astarte and the Cypriote Aphrodite. “In places where the Greeks and Phoenicians came in contact with one another, there is often an overlapping in the persona of the two deities,” Rebecca Miller Ammerman has explained (Ammerman 1991), in identifying the cult at the site as that of Phoenician Astarte or Cypriot Aphrodite. In Roman times, inscriptions make clear, the cult was reserved to Venus.