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View of Cape Sounio and the ruins of the temple of Poseidon looking west, with Patroklos island visible in the background.
Sunset at Cape Sounion.

Cape Sounion (Modern Greek: Aκρωτήριο Σούνιο Akrotírio Soúnio [akroˈtirʝo ˈsuɲo]; Ancient Greek: Ἄκρον Σούνιον Άkron Soúnion, latinized Sunium; Venetian: Capo Colonne "Cape of Columns") is the promontory at the southernmost tip of the Attic peninsula, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of the city of Lavrio, and 70 kilometres (43 mi) southeast of Athens. It is part of Lavreotiki municipality, East Attica, Greece.

Cape Sounion is noted as the site of ruins of an ancient Greek temple of Poseidon, the god of the sea in classical mythology. The remains are perched on the headland, surrounded on three sides by the sea.


Theseus slays the Minotaur. Detail from Attic red-figure pelike. ca. 470 BC. From Cerveteri, Italy. Museo Gregoriano Etrusco
The Artemision Bronze, a bronze statue of deity, either Poseidon or Zeus, about to hurl a missing projectile (either a thunderbolt, if Zeus, or a trident if Poseidon). Height: 2.1 m. ca. 460 BC. Found in shipwreck off Cape Artemisium. Athens National Archaeological Museum

The earliest literary reference to Sounion is in Homer's Odyssey (c. 8th century BC). The story recounts that as the various Greek commanders sailed back from Troy, the helmsman of the ship of King Menelaus of Sparta died at his post while rounding "Holy Sounion, Cape of Athens." Menelaus landed at Sounion to give his companion full funeral honours (i.e., cremation on a funeral pyre on the beach).[1]

Archaeological finds on the site date from as early as 700 BC. Herodotus (VI.87) mentions that in sixth century BC, the Athenians celebrated a quinquennial festival at Sounion, which involved Athens' leaders sailing to the cape in a sacred boat.

Temple of Poseidon[edit]

The original, Archaic-period temple of Poseidon on the site, which was built of tufa, was probably destroyed in 480 BC by Persian troops during Xerxes I's invasion of Greece. Although there is no direct evidence for Sounion, Xerxes certainly had the temple of Athena and everything else on the Acropolis of Athens, razed as punishment for the Athenians' defiance.[2] After they defeated Xerxes in the naval Battle of Salamis, the Athenians placed an entire captured enemy trireme (warship with three banks of oars) at Sounion as a trophy dedicated to Poseidon.[3]

Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, from the East.
Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, built circa 440 BC.
Greek hexastyle temple with Doric columns. The Temple of Hephaistos in the Agora of Athens (ca. 450 BC). Built in the same period and to similar plan (and probably by the same architect), this structure closely illustrates the appearance of the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion when it was intact. Note the surviving naos (internal hall of worship)

The temple of Poseidon at Sounion was constructed in 444–440 BC. This was during the ascendancy of the Athenian statesman Pericles, who also rebuilt the Parthenon in Athens. It was built on the ruins of a temple dating from the Archaic period. It is perched above the sea at a height of almost 60 metres (200 ft). The design of the temple is a typical hexastyle, i.e., it had a front portico with six columns.[4] Only some columns of the Sounion temple stand today, but when intact it would have closely resembled the contemporary and well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus beneath the Acropolis, which may have been designed by the same architect.

As with all Greek temples, the Poseidon building was rectangular, with a colonnade on all four sides. The total number of original columns was 34: 15 columns still stand today. The columns are of the Doric Order. They were made of locally quarried white marble. They were 6.10 m (20 ft) high, with a diameter of 1 m (3.1 ft) at the base and 79 cm (31 inches) at the top.[5] At the centre of the temple colonnade would have been the hall of worship (naos), a windowless rectangular room, similar to the partly intact hall at the Temple of Hephaestus. It would have contained, at one end facing the entrance, the cult image, a colossal, ceiling-height (6 metres (20 ft)) bronze statue of Poseidon.[6] On the longest day of the year, the sun sets exactly in the middle of the caldera of the island of Patroklos, the extinct volcano that lies offshore, suggesting astrological significance for the siting of the temple. The temple of Poseidon was most likely sacked and destroyed in the invasion of the Peloponnesus by the Visigoths in 396 AD.[7]

Temple of Athena[edit]

The temple of Athena Sounias (Ναός της Αθηνάς Σουνιάδος), some 300 m northeast of the temple of Poseidon, is built on a low hill. It was built in 470 BC, replacing an older building of the 6th century. Its architecture was unusual inasmuch as it had a colonnades on the southern and eastern, but not on the western or northern sides.[8] It was built adjacent to a burial mound identified as the shrine to Phrontis, the helmsman of Menelaus whose burial at Sounion is mentioned in the Odyssey. A smaller Doric temple next to the temple of Athena is thought to have been dedicated either to the hero Phrontis or to Artemis.[9]

The temple of Athena was demolished in the 1st century AD, and parts of its columns were taken to Athens to be used in the South-East temple of the Agora.[10]


In 413 BC, during the Peloponnesian War against the Spartans, the Athenians fortified the site with a wall and towers to prevent it from falling into Spartan hands. This would have threatened Athens' seaborne grain supply route from Euboea. Athens' supply situation had become critical since the city's land supply lines had been cut by the Spartan fortification of Dekeleia, in north Attica.[11] However, not long after, the Sounion fortress was seized from the Athenians by a force of rebel slaves from the nearby silver mines of Laurium.[12]


Early study of the ruins, without excavations, were performed by the Society of Dilettanti in 1797 and by Guillaume-Abel Blouet (Morea expedition 1829). The first excavations were made by Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Director of the German Archaeological Institute, in 1884. Systematic excavations by Valerios Stais followed in the period 1897–1913. Efforts at restoring and preserving the remains of the Poseidon temple begain in 1875. The monument's present state is due to the work performed in the 1950s by the Greek Archaeological Service, led by Anastasios Orlandos.

The excavation campaign by Stais in the 1906 season uncovered numerous artifacts and inscriptions, most notably a marble kouros statue known as the Sounion Kouros[13] and an impressive votive relief,[14] both now in the Athens National Archaeological Museum.[15] A column from the temple can be seen in the British Museum.[16]

The project Arrangement of the Archaeological Site of Sounion (2011–2013) was co-financed by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports and the European Union (ERDF).

Literary reception[edit]

Byron's name carved into temple of Poseidon

The name Capo Colonne (graecicized Kavokolones) is reported from the 17th century, for the reason that unusually, several columns of the temple of Poseidon had remained standing since antiquity. Early modern descriptions in travelogues include those by G. Wheler (1676), J.-D. Le Roy (1754), R. Chandler (1765) and E. Dodwell (1805). Scottish poet William Falconer (1732-1769) was shipwrecked off off Cape Colonna, as Sounion was then known, in 1750, an event depicted in the central scene of his The Shipwreck (1762).[17]

The inscribed name of George Lord Byron, carved into the base of one of the columns of the Temple of Poseidon, possibly dates from his first visit to Greece, on his Grand Tour of Europe before he acquired fame. Byron spent several months in 1810–11 in Athens, including two documented visits to Sounion. There is, however, no direct evidence that the inscription was made by Byron himself. Byron mentions Sounion in his poem Isles of Greece:

Place me on Sunium's marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep...[18]

Martin Heidegger visited Sounion during his journey to Greece in 1962, as described in his book Sojourns.[19] He refers to the "gleaming-white ruins of the temple". In the strong sea breeze "these few standing columns were the strings of an invisible lyre, the song of which the far-seeing Delian god let resonate over the Cycladic world of islands". He marvels at "the way that this single gesture of the land suggests the invisible nearness of the divine and dedicates to it every growth and every human work" (ibid.). He goes on to reflect "the people of this country knew how to inhabit and demarcate the world against the barbarous in honour of the seat of the gods. ...they knew how to praise what is great and by acknowledging it, to bring themselves in front of the sublime, founding, in this way, a world" (ibid.).

Modern development[edit]

Cape Sounino a popular day-excursion for tourists from Athens, with the sunset over the Aegean Sea, as viewed from the ruins, a sought-after sight since the first development of modern tourism in the early 19th century.[20]

Lavreotiki municipality was established in 1890 under the name of Sounio, but renamed to Lavreotiki in 1891. Cape Sounion itself is located between the villages of Kato Sounio and Legena.

The Sounio national park (Εθνικός Δρυμός τού Σουνίου) was established in 1974 with a core area of 750 hectares.

Forming the southeastern endpoint of the Athens Riviera, Sounio is now an upscale summer home location for Athenians. Construction of villas across the bay northwest of Cape Sounio flourished in the 1960s to 1970s. The Grecotel Cape Sounio luxury resort was built in 1973.[21]


  1. ^ Homer, Odyssey III. 278
  2. ^ Herodotus, Histories VIII.53.
  3. ^ Herodotus, Histories, VIII.121.
  4. ^ Perseus Digital Library @ (search term: 'Sounion').
  5. ^ Perseus Digital Library, for search term 'Sounion
  6. ^ W. Burkert, Greek Religion (1987).
  7. ^ Ann E.Beaton and Paul A Clement, “The Date of the Destruction of the Sanctuary of Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth”, Hesperia 45 (1976) 267-79. [1]
  8. ^ Sounion, Temple of Athena (Building) (Perseus Project)
  9. ^ Herbert Abramson, "A Hero Shrine for Phrontis at Sounion?", California Studies in Classical Antiquity 12 (1979), pp. 1-19.
  10. ^ Christopher Mee and Antony Spawfort, 'Greece: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (2001), p. 100.
  11. ^ Thucydides, Peloponnesian War VII.28 and VIII.4.
  12. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sunium". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  13. ^ David Gill, webpage: [2].
  14. ^ David Gill, webpage: [3].
  15. ^ Athens National Archaeological Museum, items NM 2720 and NM 3344.
  16. ^ British Museum Collection
  17. ^ George Gilfillan, The Poetical Works of Beattie, Blair and Falconer (1854), p. 165.
  18. ^ Byron, Don Juan, Canto the Third "The Isles of Greece". Romantic Circles, The Byron Chronology, webpage: RC-UMD.
  19. ^ Sojourns: The Journey to Greece, translated by J.P. Manoussakis, State University of New York, 2005, p.43 ff.
  20. ^ Edward Dodwell, A Classical and Topographical Tour Through Greece: During the Years 1801, 1805, and 1806 (1819), p. 539
  21. ^

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°39′00″N 24°01′30″E / 37.650°N 24.025°E / 37.650; 24.025