Tag Archives: Sounion

The Greek Riviera, Part 7, the temple of Poseidon

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.

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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!

The Greek Riviera, Part 6, the legend of Aegus

Sounion has a long history. It begins back in the mists of time, with the legend of Aegus, the King of Athens, his son Theseus and the monstrous half-man, half-bull, they called the Minotaur.

The Aegean Sea at Sounion
The Aegean Sea at Sounion

The Minotaur lived in a labyrinth beneath the palace of Minos, the King of Crete. Every year, the Athenians were forced to surrender seven young men and seven young women to Minos as tribute. As soon as they arrived in Crete these youths were sent into the labyrinth where they were  devoured by the bloodthirsty Minotaur.

Convinced that he could slay the monster and free the Athenians from their dreadful obligations to Minos, Theseus volunteered to be part of the  tribute. He set off on this dangerous mission, under a black sail, but he before he left, he promised his father that if he survived the contest, he would replace it with a white one for his return journey.

Theseus did indeed kill the Minotaur, but he forgot to hoist the white sail. Seeing the black sail and believing that his son was dead, Aegus threw himself from the cliff at Sounion.

Since that day the sea washes the shores of Greece has been known as the Aegean, in memory of Aegus, the King of Athens.