Cape Sounion, is the tip of a peninsula thrust into the Aegean, only 60-90 minutes’ drive from Athens. It is right in the middle of all those trade routes connecting the two sides of the Aegean Sea and its many islands in between.
Its importance was such that it features in several myths. For example, Leto (the mortal mother of the sun-god Apollo and his twin sister, the moon-goddess, Artemis) started her search for a place to give birth from this very spot. In another myth, Athenian king Aegeus stood here staring at the sea and waiting for the ship that would bring his son back from Crete after slaying the Minotaur.
History of the site
It was therefore no surprise to archaeologists when clues of a cult, possibly of a sea-god, dating back to prehistoric times was found at the cape. Later a temple of Poseidon, lord of the sea, was built here. When Athens was at its peak, splurging in impressive public works, that first temple was replaced with a more impressive one, the one we see now. Another temple, of Athena, stood nearby.
The temple of Poseidon
The temple of Poseidon we see today dates from the mid-5th century BC, and is of the simple and austere doric style – fitting not only for a fearsome and respected god, but also for the sparse landscape around it. Its columns are a landmark which withstood storms and earthquakes for centuries, and gave the cape its folk name of “Cavo Colones” (meaning Cape of Columns).
Historic Graffiti on the temple
Popular with visitors since the early days of travelling, the temple now bears several names of 18th- and 19th-century travellers, engraved on its columns and base. Lord Byron is probably the most notable of those privileged vandals who left their mark on the temple (see relevant post).
The site and sunsets
The spot still draws visitors, who come not only for the striking sight of the time-ravaged columns against the dazzling blue, but also for the spectacular sunsets across the Aegean. No photos of mine do Sounion sunsets justice, so you’ll have to settle with one of the temple instead.
Note: Sounion is pronounced Soon-Eon (So-Union may be the intuitive choice, but it will baffle everyone: even seasoned travel agency personnel will take a while before they figure out what you mean – others may not understand at all).