Greece: Sea god on site

By Jim Eagles

Poseidon still flexes his muscle at his ancient temple, writes Jim Eagles.

The Temple of Poseidon, at Cape Sounion, is still magnificent - despite taking a battering over the centuries. Photo / Jim Eagles
The Temple of Poseidon, at Cape Sounion, is still magnificent - despite taking a battering over the centuries. Photo / Jim Eagles

Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the sea, was showing off his power during my visit to his marvellous temple at Cape Sounion.

This rocky headland, which juts into the Mediterranean at the southeastern tip of Attica, was the perfect place for an early naval power to celebrate its alliance with the Olympian ruler of the oceans, and the city-state of Athens did so in spectacular fashion.

As I climbed up the stone path leading to the site, perched above 60m-high cliffs, the wind was howling through the 16 massive columns that have survived earthquakes and war for more than 2500 years.

Despite the battering it has suffered over the centuries, the temple looked magnificent - there were 42 columns in its heyday when it must have been truly awe-inspiring, so it was understandable that even so powerful a god as Poseidon should feel protective of the place.

During my search for a good camera angle showing the temple and its ocean backdrop, I had the temerity to stand on top of a wall - built by the Athenians during Peloponnesian War when the cape became a strategic stronghold - and one particularly powerful gust of wind nearly knocked me over.

Angry white horses rode the surface of the sea below and waves smashed into the jagged shoreline as Poseidon signalled his evident disapproval.

I climbed down quickly and the wind seemed to ease off a little.

It's worth visiting Cape Sounion just for the hour-long drive from Athens, which meanders down the coast past several small fishing ports and many more beach resorts. On most of the beaches, rows of umbrellas and deckchairs were laid out but, thanks to Poseidon's tantrum, all were deserted.

Some of the fishing boats were operating close to shore and we stopped briefly to watch a trawler hauling in a net while surrounded by a cloud of hungry gulls. Obviously the fishing here is still good, because we also passed a few taverns advertising fresh fish.

It seemed an appropriate spot for a sea god to hang out so it was no surprise when, rounding one of the many rocky points, we saw the temple standing impressively from across the bay.

The site looks out over the Agean Sea - apparently so-named after King Aegeus of Athens threw himself to his death from this spot because he thought his son Theseus was dead - allowing us to enjoy views of several small islands, a small fleet of fishing boats, a yacht beating its way up the coast and the Peloponnesian Peninsula in the distance.

The original temple was probably destroyed by the Persian King Xerxes after he defeated the Athenians in 480BC. When the Athenians got their revenge against the Persians in the naval Battle of Salamis, they rebuilt the temple and presented Poseidon with a Persian warship as a gesture of thanks.

Its spectacular setting has attracted celebrities for generations - though not always with happy consequences. King Menelaus stopped here to cremate his helmsman on his way back from the seige of Troy but, according to the Greek poet Homer, Poseidon sent a storm which scattered the ships.

The English poet Lord Byron mentioned it in his poem, Isles of Greece - he was apparently among the many people who have carved their names on the temple columns - and died of fever not long after. Since I was already wary of Poseidon, I didn't try to carve my name on one of the fallen columns near the temple. Instead, we enjoyed cappuccino freddos at the small cafe near the temple and I took the opportunity to sip a toast to the god's health.

Then we slipped away to Athens where the temple of Zeus, king of the gods, sat opposite our hotel.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Emirates offers daily services from Dubai to Athens with connections from its three daily flights from Auckland. Fares are from $2765 return (inclusive of all taxes).

Further information: See tempoholidays.co.nz.

* Jim Eagles visited Cape Sounion with help from Emirates and Tempo Holidays.

- NZ Herald

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