Aktí Souníou – Cape Soúnio – the southern tip of Attica some 70km from the city centre, is one of the most imposing spots in Greece, for centuries a landmark for boats sailing between Pireás and the islands, and an equally dramatic vantage point from which to look out over the Aegean. On its tip stands the fifth-century BC Temple of Poseidon, built in the time of Pericles as part of a major sanctuary to the sea god.
Below the promontory are several coves – the most sheltered a five-minute walk east from the car park and site entrance. The main Soúnio beach, a short distance to the north, is more crowded, but has a couple of tavernas at the far end.
The Temple of Poseidon
The Temple of Poseidon owes much of its fame to Lord Byron, who visited in 1810, carved his name on the nearest pillar (an unfortunate and much-copied precedent, which means the temple is now roped off) and immortalized the place in verse:
from Don Juan
Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die:
A land of slaves shall ne’er be mine –
Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!
In summer, at least, there is little hope of silent solitude, unless you slip into the site before the tour groups arrive or after they’ve left. But the setting is still wonderful – on a clear day, the view takes in the islands of Kéa, Kýthnos and Sérifos to the southeast, Égina and the Peloponnese to the west – and the temple is as evocative a ruin as any in Greece. Doric in style, it was probably built by the architect of the Hephaisteion in the Athens Agora. That it is so admired and visited is in part due to its position, but also perhaps to its picturesque state of ruin.
The rest of the site is of more academic interest. There are remains of a fortification wall around the sanctuary; a propylaion (entrance hall) and stoa; and cuttings for two shipsheds. To the north are the foundations of a small Temple of Athena.