On my last full day in Athens, I decided to visit Cape Sounion as a quick afternoon getaway. Cape Sounion is at the south-eastern tip of the Attican peninsula, and is a very popular half day trip from Athens. It is not only famous for the sanctuaries built there, but also for its romanic sunset! 😉
I could have opted to go with a tour company for around €40, but I’m not a big fan of those things so I decided to take the bus instead.
All of the websites I had visited beforehand had assured me that the trip would take a maximum of two hours, but in reality it took me three hours to get there (Yay Greece). At least it wasn’t as bad as the 24 hour bus ride to Italy!
That left me with 30 minutes to explore the cape, before heading back with a bus that would drop me off in the city at a reasonable time. Despite this minor setback, I managed to spend a beautiful 30 minutes there: running around and taking pictures like crazy!
The Athenians built sanctuaries to Athena and Poseidon at Cape Sounion: the two Gods that vied for patronage of Athens, and occupied a special place in their hearts. I only had time to admire the Temple of Poseidon, the more well-preserved and spectacular of the two. It stands at the top of a rock that rises 60 m above sea level, pinning it at the highest point in the immediate area.
The philosopher Martin Heidegger, who visited the site in 1962 (and later wrote about it in his novel Sojourns), describes the “gleaming-white ruins of the temple” perfectly: “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”. I couldn’t have said it better myself 🙂
A quirky fact: Lord Byron, the famous English romantic poet, had carved his name on one of the columns (old fashioned graffiti haha) during the time he lived in Greece to fight in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans 😉
The other reason why Cape Sounion is so famous is because of the myth surrounding Theseus and his father Aegeus. During Aegeus’s reign, the kingdom of Athens had to pay a cruel tribute to King Minos of Crete: seven youths and seven maidens to be led into the labyrinth of Knossos and sacrificed to the Minotaur. This happened every year, as revenge for the death of King Minos’s son at the hands of Athenians. When Theseus heard of this, he was determined to slay the Minotaur and save the lives of these innocent children, so he volunteered to be a tribute (hunger games anyone?).
Aegeus feared the worst, and made the captain of the boat promise to raise a white flag if Theseus came back alive, and keep the black one raised if he had perished. Thus, Aegeus spent many hours at Cape Sounion, looking over the sea and praying for his son’s safe return.
Theseus meanwhile had succeeded in killing the Minotaur and was on his way back. However, the captain had forgotten his promise to the king and had kept the black sail blowing in the wind. When Aegeus saw the boat in the distance with the black sail, he thought his son had died and proceeded to commit suicide by jumping into the sea. That is why this body of water is now called the Aegean Sea.
The place where Aegeus is supposed to have stood and jumped is not known, or at least it is not marked. Thus, I decided that King Aegeus must have stood at the furthest point of the cape and ventured there. The fall was definitely a steep one, and there were many rocks waiting for me in the water below. The sea was a beautiful mix of green, turquoise and marine blue – as in a painting.
The most surreal and beautiful thing though, was the sky. As I stood by the temple of Poseidon and looked towards the mainland, the entire sky was filled with clouds colored in (50) shades of grey and black, threatening torrential downpour. Looking towards the water however, the clouds looked much more serene and the sunlight illuminated everything. It was a beautiful juxtaposition: the gloomy sheet of clouds to my left and the bright rays of the sun to my right. It was hard to believe that they just flowed into each other like a river. The beginning of the sunset was spectacular: in shades of purple and pink whose beauty I could not capture with my camera. I desperately wanted to sit down by the pillars of the temple and watch the entire show, but unfortunately I had to catch my bus.
I will return one day in the summer to swim in the Aegean and admire the Greek sunset in all its glory. That’s a promise.