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Cape Sounion

Cape Sounion is a headland in Greece, located 43 miles (69km) south-southeast of Athens, on the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula. This endpoint of the Athenian Riviera is known for being the site of ruins of an ancient Greek temple of Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the sea. The ruins dominate the landscape, perched some 60m atop the craggy rocks of the cape and surrounded on three sides by the deep blue sea. The site is a popular half- or full-day excursion from Athens.

The temple is shrouded in myth and historic facts, dating from antiquity until modern times. In ancient Greek religion, every natural feature was controlled by a god and in order to avoid misfortune, it was necessary for the believer to seek the favour of the relevant gods by prayers, gifts and sacrifices. Because Greece is a seafaring nation, Poseidon was an extremely important God, second only to Zeus (Jupiter), the supreme god of the Olympian pantheon. In the eyes of the ancients, Poseidon was a God capable of causing great misfortune by creating storms much feared by all mariners. Cape Sounion therefore was a natural location to build a temple dedicated to him, so that mariners and others could win or regain his favour, by sacrificing animals or leaving gifts here.

Mythical tales abound, the temple of Poseidon was constructed in 444–440 BC over the ruins of a previous Archaic period temple. The unknown architect (probably the same one who built the Temple of Hephaestus beneath the Acropolis) used a typical hexastyle design, comprising a front portico with six columns. The original structure would have been rectangular comprising 34 6.1m high Doric columns with a colonnade on all four sides; only 15 of the columns remain. The material used was a local white marble. The centre of the colonnade would have housed a rectangular, windowless, hall of worship. At the end opposite the entrance would have stood a large ceiling-height bronze statue of Poseidon, most likely covered with gold leaf. He was typically portrayed carrying a trident, which it was believed he used to stir up storms with. The temple was destroyed in 399 by Emperor Arcadius. In 1906, archaeological excavations took place here and these uncovered various artefacts and inscriptions, including a marble statue, the Sounion Kouros (Male Youth), which can be seen in the Athens National Archaeological Museum. The construction at Sounion would have been decorated with a number of sculptures made of Parian marble (from Paros Island), depicting the labours of Theseus as well as battles with Centaurs and Giants.

One of the inescapable facts for the visitor here relates to one of the greatest British Poets, Lord Byron (1788–1824). A man with a colourful lifestyle, to say the least, he came here to Sounion and left his mark in the form of a deeply engraved work of graffiti on the ruins, bearing his name. It (apparently) is located on the outside of the closed end, on the square column second in from the right and on the third block up. For anyone who has a genuine yearning to read it, let alone see it, bring a pair of binoculars!

Naturally, Byron mentions Sounion in his work, referred to here as Sunium, in his poem The Isles of Greece:

"Place me on Sunium's marbled steep,
 Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
 There, swan-like, let me sing and die..."

Bit of culture, innit.

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