Cape Sounion & The Temple of Poseidon

The promontory of Sounion is the southernmost tip of Attica. Here, on the windswept bluff rising above the Aegean Sea, stands the temple of Poseidon, one of the most impressive classical monuments to have survived to the present day. It was built shortly after the middle of the 5th century B.C. during the same period that saw the beginning of work on the great monuments on the Athenian Acropolis.

A wonderful drive along the scenic coastal road which affords a splendid view of the Saronic Gulf passing through some of Athens most beautiful suburbs (Glyfada, Vouliagmeni, Varkiza). In Cape Sounion you will visit the 5th century B.C Temple of Poseidon with one of the most breathtaking panoramic views in the world (on a clear day you can see at least seven islands) and you will have lunch or dinner by the sea.

The temple of Poseidon, standing some 60m/200 feet above the sea at the edge of a cliff on Cape Sounion, in one of the most breathtaking and deeply moving sites in all of Greece. And Greece has many of them. The temple is an hour’s drive from central Athens and both the site itself and the route leading to it are worth every minute of the drive. The road runs along the Saronic coast and from the window of your car or bus you can enjoy the endless and brilliant blue sea. If you are traveling by car make sure you stop for a breath of sea-scented air and a walk on the beach. You will also find many coffee shops, fresh fish tavernas and ouzeri along the way. The promontory of Sounion is the southernmost tip of Attica. Here, on the windswept bluff rising above the Aegean Sea, stands the temple of Poseidon, one of the most impressive classical monuments to have survived to the present day. It was built shortly after the middle of the 5th century B.C. during the same period that saw the beginning of work on the great monuments on the Athenian acropolis. The monuments seen on the site are the following:

TEMPLE OF POSEIDON

At the end of the Archaic period an imposing temple was constructed in the position of the Classical one seen today, but it was slightly smaller in dimensions. It was Doric, made of poros, with an external colonnade of 6 x 13 columns, and an internal one which supported the roof. Its construction was interrupted by the Persian invasion and the temple remained unfinished. The later temple, the one preserved today, was also Doric, with 6 x 13 columns, made of Agrileza marble, but without an internal colonnade. The stylobate measured 13,47 x 31,12 m. It was constructed in 450-440 B.C. and, according to another theory, was the work of the architect who had also built the Hephaisteion (“Theseion”) in the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous, and the Temple of Ares which was probably erected in Acharnes. The sculptural decoration of the temple, made of Parian marble, is preserved in a poor condition. The frieze of the east side depicted Centauromachy, and the east pediment (of which only a seated female figure is preserved) probably depicted the fight between Poseidon and Athena for the domination of Attica. The two antae of the east side and several of the columns of the east part of the temple are still preserved today, while the west is completely destroyed.

PROPYLON – PORTICOES

The Propylon was constructed a little later than the Classical temple, and was made of marble and poros. It is Doric, distyle in antis on both sides (north and south). A partition wall inside the building has three doorways, of which the middle one is wider and has a ramp. A small rectangular hall is attached on the west wall of the Propylon, while porticoes are erected along the north and west sides of the sanctuary. The north of these porticoes is larger and slightly earlier. The Fortress: Sounion cape was fortified in 412 B.C. during the Peloponnesian War, in order to control and secure the ships carrying cereals to Athens. The use of various materials and construction techniques is probably the result of repairs and additions made during the Chremonides’ War and the following years (266-229 B.C.). The sanctuary of Poseidon occupies the SE end of the fortress. The wall starts at the NE corner, extends to the north and turns to the west. Shipyards for the sheltering of two war ships were constructed on the coast, at the west end of the north branch of the fortification. Inside the fortress, excavations have brought to light part of a central street, remains of houses, and water cisterns.

SANCTUARY OF ATHENA

It is situated on a hill 500 m. to the NE of the Sanctuary of Poseidon. The area was evened off and enclosed with a poros polygonal circuit wall. Inside the enclosed area were erected the Temple of Athena, a smaller temple to the north, and altars. A deep pit on the SE side of the temenos was used as a deposit for the Archaic offerings destroyed by the Persians. The oval peribolos to the NW of the temenos has been identified as the “Heroon of Phrontes”.

TEMPLE OF ATHENA

It has a rectangular cella, measuring 16,4 x 11,6 m. The foundation of the pedestal supporting the cult statue is preserved on the west side of the cella, while four Ionic columns in the centre supported the roof. One of the peculiarities of the temple, mentioned also by Vitruvius, is the

existence of an outer colonnade only on the east and south sides. Some shcolars consider that the temple of Athena Sounias was reconstructed after the mid-5th century B.C., while others believe that the cella was built during the Archaic period, was repaired after the Persian destructions, and the colonnade was added in the middle of the 5th century B.C. A second peculiarity of the sanctuary is the placement of the altar to the south of the temple.

There are now two roads linking Cape Sounion with Athens, which means that the trip can be made swiftly and in comfort, and that it is possible to take a different route on the return journey and thus see two entirely different facets of the Attic countryside.