A few days ago, despite the fact that I have a voice-stopping cold, Evy and we planned to go to Cape Sounion, the southernmost tip of the Greek mainland about an hour and a half by car from Athens. The site is famous for its Temple of Poseidon, 440 B.C., situated on the edge of a cliff looking out to the sea. Every tourist comes to this site, preferably at sunset, as I did 40 years ago. We picked up Evy’s friend Renna along the way south out of town, and drove along the sea–the Aegean Sea–around windy roads and past little beaches and coves, with views out to the islands closest to the shore.
And then it was there! Silhouetted against the sky on its promontory. Because it is still quite cool and windy (note to self: come to Greece next time in April or May!), there were far fewer people here than when I came here some 40 years ago. As we drove up to
the entrance, Evy and Renna pointed out to us the island of Makronissos, saying that it was the island where the Communists were exiled by the dictatorship after World War II. Ostracism seems a particularly Greek way of dealing with its so-called dissidents. Here’s the sad story of that time:
Aside from the lack of tour bus crowds, the other nice thing about coming at this time of year was the profusion of wildflowers.
When I was here 40 years ago, you could walk into the Temple–and see where Byron reputedly carved his name–but it is now fenced in. But no matter, the structure and the location is just overwhelmingly wonderful. Evidence of other structures around the main temple indicate that the site was a major complex for offerings and sacrifices, and would have housed sculptures and altars as well.
Built as a shrine to Poseidon in 444-440 B.C., the site is, according to legend, on the cliff where King Aegeas watched for his son Theseus’ ship to return after fighting the Minotaur on Crete. If he survived, Theseus was to hoist a white sail instead of a black one; although victorious, Theseus forgot his promise to his father. Seeing the black sail, Aegeas believed his son to have perished, and so threw himself off the cliff into the sea (which is why it is called the Aegean Sea). For millenia, this tale has been told to children, I’m sure, to remind them to pay attention to their parents–”just remember to call, that’s all I ask”!
Renowned for the beauty of its sunsets, we came late enough in the day to experience that moment. While the setting sun wasn’t that spectacular, the view was still stunning. Since this was a site dedicated to invoking the god of the sea to protect travellers on the water, George brought an offering to Poseidon, giving me a chance to catch him in a romantic pose with the isle of Patroclos in the background.
And we stayed late enough to capture some magnificent atmospherics as the sun set, and the clouds played against the darkening sky. Finally, as night set in, the Temple was illuminated, and the smiling moon appeared above it. The whole scene reminded me of Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead.
By the time we got back to Athens, my cold had entered that ”go to bed!” phase, and I spent the next two days doing nothing but sleeping and coughing. But I wouldn’t have missed Sounion for the world. Thank you, Evy, for your magnificent gift to your American friends!