69 kilometres southeast of Athens, at the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula in Greece lies a promontory surrounded by three sides of sea. Here fixed in rock is Poseidon’s ancient temple. Transported to this site by coach, I now stand on marble from the era 444BC carved by Athenians in homage to this god of the Sea. I am arrived at Cape Sounion.
Homer provides the earliest literary references to Sounion in his poem the Odyssey, composed in the 8th century BC. Our Greek Hero Odysseus endured a gruelling 10-year sea-voyage to return to his native island, Ithaca in the Ionian Sea, from the sack of Troy. It was Poseidon who inflicted upon him this trial, and to whom the temple at Sounion was dedicated.
This is the site where Aegeus, King of Athens, killed himself because of a misconception. Theseus, his son, had traveled to Crete to kill Minotaur who lived in the palace of Knossos, and to release Athens from the obligation of sending 7 boys and 7 girls every year to the King of Crete, only to be eaten by Minotaur.
Theseus thus had said to his father that if he killed the Minotaur, he would hoist a white sail on the return home. Killed the Minotaur he did but sadly forgot to hoist the white sail upon his return to Athens; a black sail on his mast was billowing. Aegeus saw the black sail from Cape Sounion and believing his son dead, threw himself into the sea. Athenians thereafter named the sea in his honor: the Aegean.
Local marble was used for the Temple of Poseidon’s doric columns. 15 of the original 34 survive today. The columns were cut with 16 flutings instead of the usual 20, which reduced the surface area exposed to the wind and sea water.
On the east side of the main path is an Ionic frieze made from 13 slabs of Parian marble. Badly eroded now, it depicted scenes from the battle of the Lapiths and centaurs and from the adventures of the hero Theseus.
The east pediment, on which only a seated female figure is preserved, probably depicted the battle between Poseidon and Athena for the domination of Attica.