Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion
ΣΟΥΝΙΟΝ, ΝΑΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΟΣΕΙΔΩΝΟΣ
The ruins of the temple of Poseidon are perched on the headland, surrounded by the sea on its three sides. The site is a popular excursion from Athens, and, with a bit of lack, offers an unparalleled sunset over the Aegean Sea, as viewed from the ruins, a much sought-after spectacle. On the longest day of the year, the sun sets exactly in the middle of the caldera of the island of Patroklos, the extinct volcano that lies offshore, suggesting some astrological significance for the siting of the temple.
Cape Sounion is the spot where according to legend, Aegeus, king of Athens, jumped to his death off the cliff, in despair, mistakenly thinking that his son Theseus did not survive his symbolic encounter with the Minotaur in Crete, and the heavy taxation of the Athenians by the Cretans, thus giving his name to the Aegean Sea. The earliest literary reference to Sounion around the 8th c. BC, in Homer's Odyssey,
The original, Archaic Period, temple of Poseidon was probably destroyed in 480 BC by Persians during Xerxes I's invasion of Greece (the second Greco-Persian War). Although there is no direct evidence for Sounion, Xerxes certainly had the temple of Athena, and everything else on the Acropolis of Athens razed as punishment for the Athenians' defiance. After they defeated Xerxes in the naval Battle of Salamis, the Athenians placed an entire enemy trireme (warship with three banks of oars) at Sounion, as a trophy dedicated to Poseidon.
The building was rectangular, with a colonnade of Doric order on all four sides. The total number of original columns was 42 of which 15 columns still stand today. They were made of locally-quarried white marble. They were 6.10 m (20 ft) high, with a diameter of 1 m (3.1 ft) at the base and 79 cm (31 inches) at the top. At the center of the temple would have been the hall of worship (naos), a windowless rectangular room. It would have contained, at one end facing the entrance, a colossal, ceiling - height (6 m) bronze -probably gold-leafed- statue of Poseidon, who was usually portrayed carrying a trident, the weapon he used to stir up storms.
The temple of Poseidon was destroyed in 399 by Emperor Arcadius. Archaeological excavations of the site in 1906 uncovered numerous artifacts and inscriptions, most notably a marble kouros statue and an impressive votive relief, both now in the Greek National Archaeological Museum.
Many parts of the temple were taken and transported either in museums or private collections. Thus, 5 column drums are in England at Chatsworth (and support the statue of the 6th Duke of Devonshire!), 3 in Venice and 3 in Germany (Potsdam).
The ruins bear among hundreds of others over time, the deeply engraved name of English romantic poet Lord Byron, who mentions Sounion in his poem Isles of Greece. The signature of historian and philhellene George Finlay, his friend and companion, is visible from the distance dictated by the protective wire. The philosopher Martin Heidegger also visited Sounion during his journey to Greece in 1962, as described in his book Sojourns. He refers to the "gleaming-white ruins of the temple". In the strong sea breeze "these few standing columns were the strings of an invisible lyre, the song of which the far-seeing Delian god let resonate over the Cycladic world of islands". He marvels at "the way that this single gesture of the land suggests the invisible nearness of the divine and dedicates to it every growth and every human work" (ibid). He goes on to reflect "the people of this country knew how to inhabit and demarcate the world against the barbarous in honor of the seat of the gods ...they knew how to praise what is great and by acknowledging it, to bring themselves in front of the sublime, founding, in this way, a world".
On our visit, we found the archaeological site surprisingly quiet, since a tourist bus was leaving upon our arrival. The visitors that enjoyed the site along with us were no more than a couple of dozen, so we all had ample room to move, photograph, and take in the majestic beauty and the historical significance of the monument, that has survived over 2500 years so that we may form an idea of our own as to the glory that Greece is through the ages. After our visit, and as the temperature was rising, we drove less than a mile downhill and enjoyed the clear blue waters of the sea, on a beach where fragments of ancient construction material or artifacts worn to no recognition but visible to the curious mind were scattered throughout.
|Private Tour of |
Temple of Poseidon in Sounion
Immerse yourself in the blue waters of the Aegean Sea in this private tour of the temple of Poseidon in Sounion! This private day-excursion will bring you closer to the god of the sea and you'll also be able to watch the sunset from the majestic Temple. You will begin your trip with a pickup from your hotel in Athens at 5 pm and be driven to Sounion, about a 1.5-hour drive. You will have time to explore the temple once you arrive and watch the sunset. The tour will conclude with a drive back to your hotel at 10 pm. Tour is limited to a maximum of 6 persons.