The location of cape Sounio at the tip of Attica rendered it as a location of strategic military importance, and thus it was fortified with a mighty wall and guarded constantly by a garrison which ensured that the shipping lanes to Athens remained open. It is also most likely the place that Aegeus plunged to his death after he glimpsed the dark sails of Theseus' ship approaching, thus naming the Aegean Sea after his legend.

Cape Sounion (Modern Greek: Aκρωτήριο Σούνιο, transliterated Akrotírio Soúnio, pronounced [akroˈtirʝo ˈsuɲo]; Ancient Greek: Ἄκρον Σούνιον, Άkron Soúnion; Venetian: Capo Colonne, "Cape of Columns") is a promontory located 69 kilometres (43 mi) south-southeast of Athens, at the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula in Greece.

The temple of Poseidon

The significance of Cape Sounion for the city-state of Athens
Cape Sounion, the southernmost tip of Attica, is a significant strategic point, whence the city-state of Athens controlled the sea passage to the Aegean Sea and Piraeus, the central port, as well as the Lavrion peninsula, comprising the rich silver mines thanks to which Athens emerged as a leading power in the 5th century BC. 

Habitation at the Sounion area 
The fortress and sanctuaries belonged to the deme of Sounion, formed through the state reorganization by Kleisthenes in 510 BC. The deme belonged to the tribe of Leontis and extended in the area between Lavrion, Megala Pefka, Kamariza (Agios Konstantinos) and the cape. The settlement in the fortress probably forms the center of the deme, of which more remains are also known. In the surroundings of the fortress, a settlement is located over the port and a cemetery of the classical period on the shore where the church of Saint Peter is, as well as part of a settlement of roman times west of the church. 

Prehistoric habitation is also attested in the area. Graves of the Early Bronze Age period (3rd mil. BC) are reported on the cape. 

Sounion in the ancient writers 
Homer was the first to refer to Sounion (Odyssey c 278) as “the sacred cape of the Athenians”. Herodotus (6,87) informs us that the Athenians celebrated there a great four-yearly festival. Poseidon’s sanctuary is mentioned by the tragedians Euripides and Sophocles and the comic poet Aristophanes. 

Information is derived from writers like Strabo (Geography, 1st cent. BC – 1st cent. AD) and Stephanus of Byzantium (Ethnika, w. Sounion, 6th cent. AD). A concise account was written by the traveler Pausanias (Description of Greece) in the 2nd cent. AD, when the sanctuary of Poseidon had declined and the temple of Athena was already deconstructed to the foundation level and transported to the Athenian agora. The traveler wrongly mentions that in the temple visible on the cape Athena was worshipped, a misconception that lasted until 1900, when inscriptions found in the excavation proved that the temple was dedicated to Poseidon. 

The temple of Athena was recognized by its odd architectural plan, described by the Roman architect Vitruvius (De Architectura, 1st cent. BC). 

Travelers and archaeologists at Sounion 
From the 17th century on foreigner travelers (G. Wheler / 1676, J.-D.Le Roy / 1754, R. Chandler / 1765, E. Dodwell /1805, A. Blouet /1829 et al.) to Sounion viewed the ruined temple of Poseidon in a romantic mood. The standing columns made the cape known as Kavokolones. 

Blouet, as archaeologists and architects of the Dilettanti Society had done (1797), attempted to draw and study the ruins, proceeding also to partial excavation of the sanctuary gateway. Romantic visitors of the temple, like Lord Byron in 1810, engraved their names on the marbles. 

The scholarly investigation of the Poseidon temple started in 1884 by the archaeologist – architect W. Dorpfeld, Director of the German Archaeological Institute. The archaeologist Valerios Staes excavated systematically (1897-1913), expenses of the Archaeological Society in Athens, the temple, the wall and the settlement. Works for the restoration of the temple are ongoing since 1875, while its present state is a result of the work conducted by the Greek Archaeological Service in the 1950s, under the architect – archaeologist Anastasios Orlandos, an expert on the monument. 

Through the realisation by the Ministry of Culture and Sports (2011-2013) of the project “Arrangement of the Archaeological Site of Sounion” co-financed by Greece and the European Union (ERDF), all the monuments were set forth, so that the composite and important character of Sounion for the city – state of Athens can be perceived.

Monuments and Description
A ship shed for two ships was cut out on the rocky shore at the cove entrance. It is a rectangular alcove, 11.50 m wide, penetrating the slope for 20.50 m. Along the floor, cut out at a slant, two parallel trenches 1.25 m deep were dug out, suitably arranged for hauling and launching the ships. Another ship shed for one ship is located a little further to the E. 


The top of a low hill about 400 m to the NE of the sanctuary of Poseidon is occupied by the sanctuary of Athena. A trapezoid enclosure of limestone (about 46.50X44 m) runs around the flattened top of the hill and defines the sanctuary with the temple of Athena, the small temple and the depositor. Right to the north, an older sacred precinct is located, the so called ?of Phrontis?. The temples of the sanctuary were deconstructed, as usually practiced in the roman period with the abandoned temples in the periphery, and transported to adorn the Athenian agora. 

At the temple of Athena the cella was bordered by a colonnade only on the east and south sides. The marble columns were unfluted, with ionic capitals. In the back of the cella the foundation of the pedestal for the cult statue is preserved. The altar is placed south of the temple, apparently because the spacious plateau at the south was suitable for the worshipers to gather and for the offerings to be placed. The temple was built around the middle of the 5th cent. BC. According to another view, it predated the Persian wars and only the exterior colonnades were added. 

The small temple (4.96X6.80 m) is located at the NE consisting of a cella with two columns in the front. In the back the base for the cult statue is of grey marble of Eleusis. Opposite the main side the altar is located. The temple was probably dedicated to the goddess Artemis. It dates to the archaic period (600-500 BC) and was destroyed by the Persians (480 BC). According to another opinion it is contemporaneous with or later than the big temple of Athena. 

The depositor 
In the SE area of the sanctuary there is a wide trench 15 m deep accessible through 15 hewn steps. The initial use remains obscure. Later, probably after the Persian wars, the old offerings were deposited in it. They date from the 9th to the mid 5th cent. BC, when the trench was covered. 

The precinct of "Phrontis" 
At the NW part an almost circular wall of roughly hewn large stones defines a precinct older than this of Athena. In the precinct, apparently a sacred grove, a hero was worshipped, probably Phrontis, the helmsman in Menelaus' ship during the return from Troy to Sparta, who died and was buried at Sounion (Odyssey, c 276-285). 

The old precinct and the depositor with the oldest of the finds evidence a most ancient cult that had started in the area of the Athena sanctuary.


Plutarch, Theseus
Homer, Odyssey III. 278
Herodotus, Histories VI.87. VIII.53.VIII.121.
Thucydides, Peloponnesian War VII.28 and VIII.4.
Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sunium". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Ovid, Metamorphoses.
Perseus Digital Library 
W. Burkert, Greek Religion (1987).
David Gill, webpage: [1]. [2].
Athens National Archaeological Museum, items NM 2720 and NM 3344.
British Museum Collection
Byron, Don Juan, Canto the Third "The Isles of Greece"
Sojourns: The Journey to Greece, translated by J.P. Manoussakis, State University of New York, 2005, p.43 ff.

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