Everything You Should Know About the Temple of Poseidon

Temple of Poseidon at sunset
The Temple of Poseidon at sunset

For those who are fascinated by history, ancient legends, and incredible architecture, Greece is one of the best countries to explore. Greece can be a bit of an overwhelming travel destination, though, as it’s home to so much rich history and many fascinating attractions.

There’s certainly a lot to see and do while in Greece. However, one of the most interesting, must-see attractions is the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

About the Temple of Poseidon

In ancient Greek religion and myth, Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses. He was also the brother of Zeus, which means that he was considered quite powerful relative to many other Greek gods and goddesses.

The Temple of Poseidon can be found on the edge of rocks, overlooking the sea at Cape Sounion. It is a massive marble structure that features a series of gleaming white columns and is one of the major monuments from the Golden Age of Athens (from 449 BC to 431 BC).

The original temple featured 34 Doric columns, each of which was about 20 feet tall and over 3-feet thick at the base. The columns were slightly narrower (about 2.5-feet thick) at the top to make them appear taller.

Today, 15 of the original columns are still standing.

Temple of Poseidon Cape Sounion
The Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion, Greece – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

In ancient times, sailors saw the temple as an indicator that they were close to home. When they saw the first glimpse of white, that was a sign they had almost reached their final destination.

Ancient Greeks, particularly sailors, also believed that storms were a sign of Poseidon’s wrath. They used the temple as a place to offer sacrifices and gifts to appease Poseidon and win his favor and protection while they were at sea.

The Temple of Poseidon: History & Legends

The Temple of Poseidon was constructed between 444 BC and 440 BC (around the same time that the Parthenon was built). It was made of marble extracted from the valley of Agrilesa, which is located about 4 kilometers to the north of the Cape Sounion.

Experts believe that Ictinus (also spelled Iktinos by some professionals) was the architect of the temple. He was also responsible for building the Temple of Hephaestus, which was located in the Ancient Agora in Athens.

Like many attractions throughout Greece and the Greek islands, the Temple of Poseidon is the subject of many ancient Greek legends, including the story of King Aegeus.

This temple is believed to be the place where King Aegeus of Athens jumped off a cliff and took his own life. He had positioned himself there with the intent of watching for his son, Theseus’s, return from Crete.

When he saw black sails on an incoming ship, he assumed that his son had been killed by the Minotaur, another ancient Greek figure. He then decided to jump to his death.

In reality, Theseus had simply forgotten to swap out the black sails for white ones. To commemorate his father, the sea was renamed the Aegean sea in his honor.

Homer, the author of the famed poem The Odyssey, also referenced the Temple of Poseidon and Sounion in his writing. He described it as the place where King Menelaus of Sparta chose to bury his helmsman, who met his death while rounding the cape.

Visit the Temple of Poseidon Today

Sunset view from the Temple of Poseidon
The view of the sunset from the temple’s ruins – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

Those who choose to explore the Temple of Poseidon during their Greek travels typically book a package for a day trip from Athens. It’s about a 70-kilometer bus ride from Athens down the coast to reach the temple, but the views tourists get to enjoy when they arrive will make the travel time absolutely worth their while.