Cape Sunion and the temple of Poseidon
Cape Sounion and the remains of the temple of Poseidon at the top of the cape are one of the most popular sights in the vicinity of Athens. People come here to admire the ruins of the ancient temple of Poseidon and the remains of an ancient settlement. The columns of the temple are one of the visiting cards of Greece.
How to reach Sounion
Sounion is located about 70 km southeast of Athens. We drove there by rented car. The roads in Greece are good. The problem is Athens traffic jams, because almost half of modern Greece’s population lives in Athens. But the traffic is manageable, and outside the city the roads are pretty deserted. Anyway, it took us about an hour and a half to get to Sounion by car.
We should keep in mind that the navigator shows you several options. We had chosen the shortest one through ignorance, but it was not an interesting road through unimpressive villages and farmland. Be sure to choose the road along the sea shore.
On the way back we drove along the coast and had a lot of pleasure from the scenery with rocky shores and blue water.
You can also get to Cape Sunion by bus. The travel time is about 2 hours. The schedule varies with the seasons and can be found on the website of KTEL. The cost of the ticket is 7 euros one way.
Arriving at the cape, we landed on the edge of the Greek world – only the sea is farther. And this cape looks like the edge of the world: steep cliffs, waves crashing on the rocks, seagulls soar over the waves. Cold, overcast and windy weather (we were there in January) added severity.
History and myths.
At all times this high promontory, the southernmost point of Attica, has been of strategic importance. Since ancient times there has been a fortress here, controlling the passage to Athens from the sea.
For the people of Attica the site was sacred because on the cape, as on the Athenian acropolis, there were temples of Poseidon and Athena. Of the temple of Athena, only the foundations remain, while the columns of the temple of Poseidon, which have been preserved to this day, harmonize remarkably with the site.
In antiquity, the temple of Poseidon on a high promontory was a kind of lighthouse. Seeing it, Athenian sailors rejoiced that they had practically reached home. In the port of Sounion one could rest and repair the ship before arriving at the Athenian port of Piraeus.
Cape Sounion was well known in ancient Hellas. Homer mentioned it in the Odyssey. The father of history Herodotus, the tragedians Sophocles and Euripides, the comedian Aristophanes, the historians Strabo and Pavsany told about Sounion and the temple of Poseidon.
There is a beautiful and sad legend connected with Sunion. Long ago, a thousand years BC, King Aegeus ruled in Athens. His son, Theseus, went to Crete to fight the monstrous Minotaur, a half-man half-beast that devoured young men and women. These young men were sent to Crete by the Athenians as tribute. Theseus promised his father that if he died, there would be a black sail over the returning ship. If he defeated the Minotaur, however, he would set a white sail.
As we know, Theseus won. But the storm took away the white sail, and he had to return under the black one.
Aegeus, who was waiting for his son to return from Crete at the southernmost point of Attica, Cape Sunion, saw the ship under a black sail. He could not bear the grief and threw himself from the cliff into the sea, which has been called the Aegean ever since.
Of the famous people of the new age, Lord Byron marked the ruins of the temple by scribbling his name on the stone. Byron in general liked to leave his autograph in places where he was, not considering it something reprehensible.
Now the cape has lost its strategic importance. There is neither a significant settlement nor a port. Now it is a tourist attraction visited by many tourists.
What is the Sunion Cape nowadays
Today the Sounion Cape is a museum area which you can visit for 8 euros from 9:30 am to sundown in winter and from 9:00 am to sundown in summer. It is believed that the best time to admire the noble columns of the temple of Poseidon is at sunset, when the last rays of the sun painted them in unusual colors.
Near the museum area there is a parking lot for buses and cars and a large cafe with very high prices.
In classical Hellenistic times, Sunion had a significant settlement, a fortress, and two temples. In the northern part of the cape there was a port in a secluded bay.
This is how the cape looked in antiquity
The temple of Athena of Sunion was located on a low hill some 400 meters northeast of the temple of Poseidon. It is believed that the temple of Athena was dismantled in Roman times, around the 2nd century AD, and moved to the Athenian agora. Only the bases of the columns and the remains of the altar have been preserved. Nearby are the poorly visible remains of an even older temple. It is believed that it was dedicated to Artemis.
Most of the foundations of the city buildings are preserved. You can see how the streets of the ancient settlement ran. Once there was a large garrison here and life was boiling. But during our stay, only the wind and a cheerful flock of motley partridges were walking between the foundations.
In some places there were remnants of the fortress wall. The wall was only on the land side, because the sea side of the cape was well protected by steep banks.
The cliffs, from one of which the unfortunate Aegeus threw himself, rise straight out of the sea waves.
On the north side of the cape, well protected from the waves, you can see the remains of the port facilities. The remains of the docks have been preserved.
At the highest point of the cape are the columns of the temple of Poseidon. There are 17 surviving columns. They are made of local marble from Agrilez and, unlike the Acropolis columns of Athens, they are light gray, but against the sky, they are bright white. They look beautiful.
The temple of Poseidon at the top of Sounion has a long history. The first temple on the site was built in the 8th century BC. A new monumental temple was built in the early 5th century BC but was destroyed in 480 BC during the Persian invasion. The Greeks defeated the Persians and by 440 BC had rebuilt a new temple whose columns have survived to this day. This temple was active at least until the 1st century CE.
Apparently, it was not destroyed. Simply the Greeks converted to Christianity, the pagan sanctuary was abandoned and gradually eroded by time.
Nevertheless, to this day the lonely temple on the high promontory is a majestic sight. Cape Sounion is certainly worth a visit.
Cape Sounion in Athens and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion
The sights of Athens are not limited to the center of the capital. Sometimes to see the incredible monuments of ancient times, you have to go outside the city limits, drive about an hour and still get to the point on foot. But the view that subsequently opens before your eyes is worth several such journeys. Cape Sounion in Greece is just about that. The area is so amazing and majestic that it seems unreal.
Cape Sounion in Athens is the southernmost point of Attica and one of the most romantic places in all Greece.
We recommend you to read the information about other places of interest in Greece.
According to a legend, Theseus bid farewell to his father, King Aegeus. The brave young man set sail for Crete to defeat the Minotaur, to whom the people of Athens gave seven young men and girls as tribute every nine years.
When Theseus set sail, the ship was outfitted with black sails. The son and father agreed that if the young man could defeat the Minotaur and return to his homeland, he would change his color to white. Theseus succeeded in winning the battle. In a burst of joy at saving his people, he forgot to change the sails. When the ship was approaching the harbor, Aegeus, seeing the black color, threw himself into the sea abyss in despair right from the high promontory.
A few centuries later, on Cape Sunion in Greece erected two temples dedicated to Poseidon, goddess of the sea, and Athena, goddess of wisdom. The first has survived to this day, the second, unfortunately, was destroyed.
The Temple of Poseidon in Athens
Construction of the temple of Poseidon was laid in the 5th century BC. But it was not possible to complete the construction.
The temple on the Sounion cape was a point of reference for Greek sailors returning home and the inhabitants of the capital took refuge here during the invasion of Athens.
In 480 BC the Persians came to Greece. The temple of Poseidon was destroyed and the locals could rebuild it only 36 years later. At the same time, the construction of the Temple of Athena.
Photo: Andy Montgomery/flickr
There is a possibility that the altar was built by the same craftsman who designed the temple of Hephaestus in the capital. The place of worship of the god of the seas is still preserved today. The most observant will notice the pieces of the frieze, which depicts scenes from ancient Greek myths.
An interesting fact: the English writer George Byron left his autograph on one of the currently standing columns. The exact location is unknown, as the temple is fenced off. But it is still worth trying to find from afar.
It wouldn’t be a Greek temple if it wasn’t attributed to one of the myths. According to legend, at Sunion, Poseidon was second in importance after Zeus. The god of the seas himself lived on the island of Euboea in a magnificent palace. Near him was the present capital of Greece, where the daughter of Zeus, Athena, sat. Poseidon longed with all his soul for the luxurious marble castles and buildings. When he came to the Acropolis he showed the city his power, but this was not enough for Athena. The goddess of wisdom grew the first olive tree from the soil, showing the inhabitants what she was capable of. To settle the dispute, the Olympians turned to the Athenian ruler Kekrop. He preferred the goddess of wisdom. Since then, Attica in Greece has been under her patronage.
Temple of Athena at Cape Sunion
The altar dedicated to the goddess of wisdom was built of the same marble as the temple of Poseidon. Both were built about the same period, only the shrine to the god of the seas was built a second time.
This temple has no rich history. Athena is the patroness of Attica. This place is a tribute to her services to the ancient Greek people. There were two temples: the main one and another near the altar. It was not meant for Athena, but for another hero of Greece, and there were many of them.
Now the tourists can see only the remains of the foundations of the two temples. But even they give a full sense of how majestic were the buildings.
The best time to visit Sounion in Greece
The seashore in Greece looks charming always and at any time of the year. Still, there are times when it is especially beautiful.
Cape Sounion is best visited at sunset. The view of the Aegean Sea, the falling shadows from the temples of Poseidon and Athena are not that ineffable, but surely aspire to that.
Photo: John M/flickr
It is believed that a wish made at sunset at the temple of Poseidon is sure to come true. It’s worth arriving near the end of the day at least for that theory.
How to get to Cape Sounion from Athens
It’s about an hour drive from the city center to the shore. The most convenient option is to take your own car on highway E91. A bonus for drivers is a good road and beautiful scenery.
Another option is the bus. Flights leave from the Pedion Areos stop on Mavrommateon & Alexandras avenue. Then pass the Syntagma square and leave the city in the direction of Sounion Cape. From the center the first bus leaves at 8 am and the last one at 15:30. From Sounion, you can leave on the earliest flight at 08:00 and return on the latest at 19:00. Routes run at two-hour intervals. To avoid surprises, we advise you to check the exact schedule on the KTEL website and read more about Athens transport in our review.
The most expensive way is by cab. The trip will cost all the money in the world. It’s just not worth it: you can get there with the same comfort by public transport. Moreover, the way takes only an hour.
Opening hours: cape – round the clock temple – from 09:00 to sunset
costs: the temple – 8 € children, students up to 18 years, pensioners – free of charge the beach area – free of charge
Phone: +30 22 9203 9363 Address: EO91, Lavreotiki 195 00, Greece
Dana Belodedenko Author of the article