Cape Sounion: A Perfect Day Trip from Athens
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If for some reason you’ve found yourself in Athens with a day to kill, and you’ve already exhausted the monuments and sites the capital has to offer never fear. A mere 45 miles from the city sits the majestic and stunning Cape Sounion [Grk: Aκρωτήριο Σούνιο].
Cape Sounion is the southernmost point of the Attica peninsula, the same historic peninsula where the Greek capital is located. The Cape is bounded by the edge of the Saronic Gulf, and overlooks the expansive Aegean Sea stretching as far as the eye can see. Legend has it that Cape Sounion is where the king of Athens, Aegeus, jumped off of the cliff in despair, upon seeing a black sail on his son’s ship. His son Theseus was returning from Crete where he set out to slay the half man-half bull Minotaur. They agreed that if he survived, he would fly a white sail, but unfortunately he forgot to hoist it and upon seeing the black sail Aegeus jumped to his death, giving his name to the Aegean Sea.
The Cape is perhaps best known for the ruined Temple of Poseidon perched on a gigantic cliff that juts into the middle of the sea. Dedicated to the god of the Sea, the Greeks, especially sailors, would pray and sacrifice at the temple to have a safe journey. The Temple was built in the age of Pericles around 440BC and is made from local white marble. Originally the temple consisted of 34 Doric columns, with 6 columns forming the porches on each end. The columns are 20 feet tall, more than 3 feet thick at the base, and more than 2.5 feet thick at their tops. Of the original 34 columns, 15 of them still stand in vivid contrast to the sparkling azure waters of the Aegean behind them.
In its original form the Temple of Poseidon would have closely resembled the Temple of Hephasteus in the ancient Agora of Athens. The design is so similar that it is believed that the same architect designed both temples; in fact the columns at the Temple of Poseidon are only a foot taller than those of its Athenian contemporary.
At only 45 miles away from Athens, the trip to Cape Sounion lasts only about an hour and a half to two hours, and is easily reachable from the city. Sounion can be reached via buses leaving from Filellinon Street about a block away from Syntagma Square, or from the foot of Pedion Areos Park every hour on the half hour. You can also book a trip through several companies that will take you to Sounion, and likely offer the less amount of stress for your visit. Of course if you are able to rent a car, the trip offers some unparalleled, gorgeous scenic views of the sea. It passes through Athens’ glitzy southern beaches of Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni, part of what is dubbed the Athenian Riviera.
Cape Sounion is also well known for something else besides the Temple of Poseidon, and that is the blazing sunsets that can be seen on the tip of Attica. Needless to say the sun setting on the Aegean and behind the marble temple is one of the most amazing sights that can be witnessed. The light at Cape Sounion is one of a kind, especially when it bathes the marble temple in various changing colors. But while it is the perfect photo-op make sure not to forget to enjoy it, because before you know it the sun will be gone and you’ll be on your way back to Athens.
This post was written by Greek Boston