Located on the southern edge of Attica region, Cape Sounio (sometimes refered to as Sounion) is about a 65km-drive from the city of Athens. The idyllic area of Sounio is of great historical importance, as it is the home of the Temple of Poseidon, one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Greece. Visitors can reach Cape Sounio driving along the coast road of the Saronic Gulf. The journey passes by some of the most famous beaches of Attica. Upon arrival at Cape Sounio the ancient temple dedicated to the God of the Seas and Oceans looms above you on top of a hill, approximately 60m above sea level, making the sky, the earth and the sea look as one! This position was to salute and greet Athenian sailors as they left the city on adventures; in fact the temple is cited in Homer’s Odyssey.
The Temple of Poseidon at Sounio(n) was the place where the ancient Athenians performed rituals in the name of Poseidon. Built sometime between 450-440 BC, that is in the Golden Age of Pericles, the Temple of Poseidon was a grandiose structure consisting of 34 Doric columns. Today, only 15 of them still stand. The temple was made of Agrileza marble without an internal arcade. Based on the archaeological findings, we know that the sanctuary was built on the foundation of a previous temple of Poseidon.
Although he is long gone and safely kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, this temple once housed the famous “Kouros of Sounion“, a monumental archaic sculpture from about 600 BCE. The statue is often reproduced in art history books as it is considered the most representative example of a kouros figure, a highly stylized male youth, in its earliest form.
According to mythology, Cape Sounio was where the King of Athens, Aegeus, committed suicide. Legend has it that Aegeus was waiting for his son, Thiseas, to return from Crete, where the latter had encountered dreadful Minotaur. Thanks to Ariadne’s help Theseus managed to beat the beast; however, on his way to Athens he forgot to put a winning white flag on the ship instead of a mournful black one. Wrongfully thinking that his son was killed and unable to deal with the pain of his son’s loss, Aegeus fell into the sea, which then was named after him (Aegean Sea).
Apart from its historic value, Sounio is also famous for its magical sunset, the best around the region of Attica. The impressive shades of red give the Temple of Poseidon a supernatural shine. The sea turns into unique colors and looks more mysterious than ever.
Sounio Travel Tips
Where to stay: Sounio is the perfect destination for a day trip from Athens, combining the pleasure of a seaside excursion with an archaeological twist to satisfy the history buff inside you. Since Athens is that close, I would suggest staying in a downtown hotel like Crowne Plaza Athens which is just 20 minutes on foot from Syntagma and is linked by public transportation to Athens and its surrounding areas.
When to visit: Although the mild climate makes Sounio and Athens a good place to visit year round, personally, I recommend the Cape in the full moon of August, when all archaeological sites are open to the public for free. At that night the moon shades its sweet light on the sparkling sea, and the crowds can admire the amazing spectacle through the columns of the Temple.