I know you know that, yet do you ever wonder how many who’ve never been to Greece but have seen so many photographs of this Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion might think that it is? I mean, let’s face it, both sit on the top of a hill, have majestic marble columns, and were built in the mid-5th Century BCE during the golden days of Pericles. And to complicate matters, there is a Temple of Hephaistos very near the acropolis in Athens that closely resembles what the Sounion temple probably looked like in its glory days. (I wrote “acropolis of Athens” because many places have an acropolis. The word literally means top of the hill (acron) city (polis), and it was quite common for ancient Greeks to build a fortified citadel on high ground in their city that would be called an “acropolis.”)
|Temple of Hephaistos, Athens|
|Harry's Greece Guide|
Cape Sounion is about an hour’s drive southeast of Athens’ center (without traffic), and aside from being one of Greece’s most popular tourist day trips, it is home to some of the most expensive residential real estate in Greece. It is at the tip of a peninsula, and a drive along either coastline (particularly the east side) has you wondering how a place as pretty and green as this could be so close to Athens (hold the mail, please).
|Theseus and the Minotaur|
Legend has it that the Temple sits at the very spot where Aegeus, King of Athens, leaped to his death when he wrongfully thought his son, Theseus, had died battling the King of Crete’s dreaded half-man, half-bull Minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete. Aegeus had told his son that the ship returning from Crete with news of his battle should hoist a white sail if he’d survived and a black if he’d not. But Theseus forgot and came in under black sail. Bye-bye daddy. But it wasn’t a total loss, for the Aegean Sea took its name from the mourning king.
The original Temple of Poseidon was made of limestone and was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE. After the defeat of the Persians, a new temple was built around 440 BCE, this time of white marble. Fifteen of the original forty-two columns still stand 200 feet above the sea in testament to Poseidon, god of the sea, subservient in power only to Zeus the supreme.
Sounion is first mentioned in literature around the 8th Century BCE by Homer in The Odyssey as the place where Menelaos stopped to bury his helmsman during the return to Troy. Perhaps its most famous more modern admirer was Lord Byron (1788-1824) who 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…
Too bad he hadn’t confined his admiration to pen and paper.
|Scene of the Crime|
|The culprit's calling card.|
When I visited Sounion last week I limited any record of my presence to the digital photo card of my iPhone. Here are few more firsthand glimpses of a sight that has inspired gods and mortals alike for millennia. For better examples of what so attracts photographers and romantics to the place, check out this YouTube link.