To the ancient Greeks, Sounion was a holy place. It was their last glimpse of land as they sailed away from Athens and their first sight of home as they returned. It was the place where the legendary King Aegus had ended his life. It was the province of the omnipotent god Poseidon, who held the sea and its moods in his sway.
It was fitting then, that a temple to the mighty god of the sea should be set here and that it should be a place of worship and prayer for this nation of seafarers.
The temple of Poseidon which stands in ruins at Sounion today was built between 444 and 440 BC, but beneath it lie fragments of another which dates back a further 300 years. The historian Herodotus, in 600 BC, described how the leaders of Athens set sail in sacred boats to take part in festivals at Sounion’s temple four times a year.
Many historians and archaeologists have described the temple of Poseidon as it would have been all those centuries ago, but it is easy for anyone looking up at its tall colonnades, silhouetted against the sky, to feel the power, the spirit and the beauty of the place and to imagine it in its glory days.
The poet George Gordon Lord Byron visited Sounion and is believed to have carved his name on a fallen fragment. He later wrote in his poem Isles of Greece.
Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep
I visited Sounion at sunset and watched the light flare and fade on its ancient stones as I listened to the murmur of the waves. Unforgettable!