My dear friend Allison and her family had plans to travel to Italy this summer, and bless, them, they stopped in Athens first. It was so not on their way. Our visit was way fun and too short, but one of the sightseeing highlights was Cape Sounio and the temple of Poseidon, the god of the Sea.
This glorious temple was the last thing that the ancient Athenians would see as they sailed off into the Aegean. It’s perched on the cliffs of the southernmost point of the Attica peninsula. It was constructed in late 400s BC, around the same time the Parthenon was constructed and likely by the same architect who designed the Temple of Hephaestus. Pericles ruled the city and it was the golden age of Athens. King Menelaus of Sparta is rumored to have stopped here on his way back from Troy. His sailing companion died en route and Menelaus landed at Sounio to give him a proper funeral. Archaeological finds date back to the 6th century BC; in fact Herotodus mentions a festival that Athenians used to hold at this Cape.
Sounio is most beautiful at sunset; we went mid-day in between heavy rains. The dark grey clouds hovering over the water and surrounding the cape were almost as beautiful and dramatic as a calm sunset. The temple was constructed on the site of the remains of an even older temple, and there’s also a second temple to Athina just around the corner. During the Peloponnesian War against the Spartans, the site was fortified with towers and walls to keep it from being overtaken by the Spartans. The fortress was later seized from the Athenians by rebel slaves from nearby Lavrio.
What is super interesting is to learn is that there is a perfect isosceles triangle between the temple at Sounio, the Parthenon and the Temple of Aphaia Athena on Aegina Island, which is visible from Cape Sounio. Mathematics were a very important part of ancient Athenian life — and geometry ruled the construction of the Parthenon — but this triangle proves that the location of various monuments was based on geometric shapes. How they figured out these points and distances is hard to imagine, but it sure is fascinating.
We left Sounio for a ‘proper’ lunch in a traditional taverna in Vouliagmeni — lunch is always a good reason to wait out the rain. It was our last day together, after two full days in Athens and late nights for food. We spent the afternoon at the pool at their hotel, though the clouds and rain made it a little too cold to swim. Michael brought a deck of cards so there were a few rounds of go fish and crazy eights. I kidnapped Allison her final morning for a walk reminiscent of our single girl days when we’d trek from TC Williams high school down to Old Town Alexandria and back. They went onto Rome that afternoon.