Cape Sounion is located about 70 km southeast of Athens, at the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula. According to legend, it was at this point that Aegeus, King of Athens, fell into the sea because of a misunderstanding. Theseus, the son of Aegeus, had travelled to Crete to kill the Minotaur, the legendary monster who lived in the palace of Knossos, and to relieve Athens of the obligation to send seven boys and seven girls to the king of Crete every year to be eaten by the Minotaur.
Theseus had therefore told his father that if he killed the Minotaur, he would raise a white cloth on his return home. Theseus did indeed kill the Minotaur and was returning to Athens safe and sound, but unfortunately he forgot to raise a white sail and had a black sail on his mast. Aegeus saw the black sail from Cape Sounion and believed that his son was dead. His despair caused him to fall into the sea and, later, the Athenians named the sea the Aegean Sea.
Some of the archaeological objects found in this area date back as early as the 8th century BC, while Herodotus confirms in his writings that in the 6th century BC the Athenians used to celebrate a quadrennial festival at Cape Sounion. In Homer’s Odyssey, Menelaus, returning from Troy, stopped at this temple where he buried Frodi, his helmsman.
In fact, this place was emotionally important to the Athenians, as this was the last point of their country that ancient Athenian sailors and warriors saw when sailing away in the Aegean and around the Mediterranean Sea, and it was also the first point of Attica that they saw when returning from travel or war. That is why the Athenians decided to build a temple there, dedicated to Poseidon, the god of the sea, to give them good sea voyages so that they could return home.
The first version of the temple was built during the Archaic period, but was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC, during the second Greco-Persian war. Pericles, the famous Athenian leader, rebuilt the temple of Poseidon probably around 440 BC, but only a few of its columns still stand today. A 5 m high statue of Poseidon stood inside the temple, but today only a part of it survives and is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Athens. The frieze of the temple was made of marble from the island of Paros and depicted the legends of Theseus. On a column, you can see the word “Byron”, engraved by the famous poet Lord Byron during a visit in 1810.
Many day trips are organised to Cape Sounion from the centre of Athens. It is considered one of the must-visit attractions if you come to Athens. Apart from the archaeological remains, Cape Sounion is also famous for its beautiful sunset and the magnificent view of the Aegean Sea. Access to this location is via a scenic highway that passes through many residential resorts, such as Glyfada, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza. There are also regular excursions to Sounion departing from Omonia Square. The trip takes about one and a half to two hours.
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