Journey through Ancient Greece

Sounion: the sanctuary of Poseidon

Cape Sounion, the south-eastern tip of Attika, with the Temple of Poseidon perched on a precipitous crag overlooking the sea, was, and is, a landmark for sailors arriving at Pireaus from the Aegean islands. It is indeed a most dramatic and romantic place, Homer refers in the Odyssey to 'the sacred cape'. From the temple you can see the islands of Kea, Kithnos, and Serifos to the Southeast, and Aegina and the Peloponnese to the west.

There was probably a simple altar here in 600 BC which was destroyed by the Persians; the Kouroi now in the National Museum in Athens were found here.

Around 500 BC the architect responsible for the temple of Hephaistos in Athens built this temple to the sea god Poseidon (brother of Zeus).

The Site

As you approach the sanctuary you pass through the fortification wall with one of the thirteen rectangular towers on your left. The wall is 300 metres in length and is an impressive sight from the beach below. Once inside you turn left and pass a polygonal wall of reddish stone. You then enter through the scant remains of the monumental propylaia or gateway. On your right here are the, also scant, remains of two stoas which provided accommodation for visitors to the sanctuary. Part of one column stands and you can see the bases of others.

The temple is built of soft white marble from nearby Agrileza. The 6 x 13 exceptionally slender Doric columns are over 6 metres tall. There is no entasis and there are 16 flutes rather than the usual 20 to allow the soft marble withstand the weather of the exposed position. As in the Hephaeiston there were no sculptures on the metopes. There was a frieze in Parian marble depicting the Labours of Theseus, and the myths of the centaurs and giants. These sculptures were very damaged by the elements and hardly any survive.

Before visitors were kept out of the temple everyone seems to have carved their names on the marble columns, encouraged perhaps by Byron who left his name on his visit in 1810. You can see the signature on the second block up of the right hand square column or anta on the north side.

The new temple was built on the foundations of the one destroyed by the Persians; you can see clear signs of this along the left (south) side where the marble of the new temple was laid on the poros stone of the old one.

The temple stands on an artificially enlarged terrace of which you get a good view round the far (west) side.

At the water's edge in the bay below, where the walls reach the sea, it is possible to make out the remains of trireme sheds. These were built in Hellenistic times also of marble from Agrileza. You can see them best from the caf on the beach.

Sounion was heavily garrisoned during the Peloponnesian wars 431-404 BC and when Athens was defeated by Sparta Sounion went into decline.

The 6th century temple of Athena which was to the north east was moved in 20 AD by Augustus Caesar to the Agora in Athens.

go back to home page

go back to Itinerary Southern Greece 2009