A brief history of Sounion

Sounion is a rocky cape, the southernmost point of Attica. It is the first piece of land one can see sailing from the Cyclades and Asia Minor to Piraeus.  The site of Sounion was inhabited since the prehistoric times. From the 8th century BCE however, the cult of Poseidon and Athena started being cultivated. The existence of a sanctuary is perhaps even earlier. Homer refers to “Sounion sanctuary” (Odyssey, c 278) where was the tomb of the hero Frontis (captain of the ship of Menelaus, who died on the return journey). In the 6th century BCE the first temples were constructed. In 480 BCE the Persians invaded Attica destroying the sanctuaries at Sounion. After the Battle of Salamis (28 or 29 September 480 BCE) the Athenians positioned an occupied Phoenician warship at the top of the hill as a trophy but also as an indication of their maritime power.


View of Sounion fort from nortwest.

In the Classical times, the settlement of Sounion flourished thanks to the rich mines in the area. It also became one of the largest slave selling centres. The hill was fortified (in 412 BCE according to Thucydides) so Sounion was turned into one of the 5 most important strongholds of the Athenians. In the mid-5th century BCE, by order of Pericles, the magnificent Temple of Poseidon was built, the ruins of which now dominate the region, and the smaller temple of Athena Sounias with the unique layout.

Κάτοψη του ακροτηρίου του Σουνίου. Πάνω αριστερά είναι το Ιερό της Αθηνάς Σουνιάδος, δεξιά το οχυρό με το Ιερό του Ποσειδώνα και τον οικισμό και κάτω αριστερά το λιμάνι.

Aerial view of Cape Sounion. On the left is the Temple of Athena Sounias, on the right the fort with the Sanctuary of Poseidon and the settlement and low left is the port.

During the Hellenistic period a small settlement grew inside the fortress, serving primarily as a military camp. The decline of Sounion begun at the end of the Hellenistic period. By the Roman times the two temples and the fort had already been deserted and probably abandoned. Pausanias describing the monuments in the 2nd century AD, confuses the temple of Poseidon with the temple of Athena, which indicates the abandonment of the area.

In recent years, Sounion was a popular destination for tourists, many of whom had their names engraved on the ruins of the temple of Poseidon. The most famous signature is that of Lord Byron.

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