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Information about the place (2)
The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
A rocky peninsula jutting into the sea at the S end of the region
lies 69 km SE of Athens. It is famous for its classical marble temple which was
built on the highest point of the cape and dedicated to the god Poseidon. It became
the site of religious activities at least as early as 700 B.C. and in later times
it was frequently used as a place of sanctuary by slaves who had run away from
the nearby silver mines at Laurion. The earliest literary reference to the site
occurs in the Odyssey (3.278) where it is said that Phrontis, Menelaus' pilot,
was struck down by Apollo as he was passing the sacred cape; in the winter of
413-412 B.C. during the Peloponnesian War, it was fortified to protect the ships
carrying corn to Athens (Thuc. 8.4); and later it was held by the slaves from
the mines at Laurion during a civic unheaval (Posidonios, cited by Athenaeus,
The marble Temple of Poseidon, built soon after the middle of the
5th c. B.C., is the main archaeological attraction of Sounion. Originally a colonnade
encircled the pronaos, the cella, where the cult statue of Poseidon was placed,
and the opisthodomos. Of the original colonnade, which had 6 columns across the
facades and 13 along the sides, 2 columns still stand on the N and 9 along the
S flank. These unusually thin columns are articulated by 16 flutes, rather than
20 the more common number. The lower two steps on which these columns stand are
unusual in their variegated surface and the cavetto molding which undercuts the
vertical raisers. One column still stands between the two antae of the pronaos;
these are aligned with the third column of the colonnade, an unusual characteristic
of this architect. Originally a sculptured frieze lined the four sides of the
area in front of the pronaos. The frieze depicted the Battle of the Centaurs,
the Battle of the Gods and Giants, and the deeds of Theseus. Several of the frieze
blocks can be seen on the site resting against the fortification wall on the left
as one approaches the temple. The pediments once held sculpture (no longer preserved)
and the whole was crowned by floral akroteria. One of the akroteria, found almost
complete, can be seen in the National Museum in Athens. The temple is built of
coarse-grained marble from the nearby quarry of Agrileza. It was designed by the
same architect who built the Temples of Hephaistos and Ares in Athens and the
Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous, as indicated by the design (for example the relationship
of the porches to the lateral colonnade), proportions (the unusually thin columns
combined with a heavy superstructure), dimensions, and style (the Ionic moldings
and frieze). The Classical temple was constructed on top of the remains of an
earlier unfinished temple made of poros limestone, begun in the early years of
the 5th c. B.C. and destroyed by the Persians in 480. The foundations, steps,
and scattered fragments of the columns and entablature of the earlier structure
can be seen beneath the later one. Immediately to the S there is a small structure
with partially preserved rubble walls which may have served as a temporary shrine
after the destruction of the earlier temple and before the construction of the
new one. The poros column drums that can be seen in its walls came from the earlier
Stoas (about which little is known) once lined the N and W sides
of the sacred area. Next to the stoa on the N lay the entrance into the precinct.
This gateway consisted of two Doric porches of unequal length separated by a gate
wall pierced by three doorways. A ramp led through the central door, similar to
the Propylaea in Athens, so that animals for sacrifice could be led into the sanctuary.
Marble benches lined the two porches. Fragments of 17 early archaic kouroi were
found in a deep pit E of the Temple of Poseidon. The statues were probably damaged
by the Persians at the time they destroyed the earlier temple. Since they were
sacred dedications, they could not be entirely discarded, and thus they were deposited
in the pit to make way for newer, undamaged dedications. The best preserved of
the statues are on exhibit in the National Museum of Athens.
A fortification wall encircling the summit of the peninsula protected
the inhabitants of the site. A few of the houses within the fortification have
been excavated. They face onto a street roughly parallel to the N fortification
wall and ca. 60 m distant from it. The houses were inhabited from the 5th c. B.C.
to Roman times. The fortification wall can best be seen to the NE of the gateway.
It is roughly 4 m thick, constructed of rubble masonry and faced with marble blocks.
Square towers punctuated the wall at intervals of roughly 20 m. The fortifications
were constructed toward the end of the 5th c. B.C.; during the Hellenistic period
they were repaired and expanded. At this same time a ship-shed was constructed
in a natural cove adjacent to the wall along the E side of the cape. A deep rectangular
cutting ca. 21 m x 12 m can be seen extending inland from the sea. On the sloping
floor of the cutting, two slipways were constructed to hold the ships; marble
masonry originally surrounded the cutting and supported the roof.
On the low hill N of the main sanctuary there is a smaller temenos
dedicated to Athena. Foundations of two small Classical temples and an enclosing
precinct wall can be seen here. The larger of the two temples was built soon after
the middle of the 5th c. B.C. and dedicated to the goddess Athena. Contrary to
the normal plan of Greek temples, the colonnade of this temple was placed only
across the front and along one side leaving the rear and N side without columns.
Originally there appear to have been 10 columns across the front or E side and
12 columns along the S side. A small pronaos led to the main room of the temple.
The remains of the base for the cult statue and foundations for 4 columns lie
within this room. The two marble slabs at the E end mark the position of the threshold.
Fragments of Ionic unfluted columns and various moldings of local gray-blue marble
from Agriliza were found on the site. Identical fragments have been found in the
Agora in Athens; it would appear that during the reign of the Emperor Augustus
in the 1st c. A.D. part of this temple was transported to Athens and reerected
in or near the Agora. One of the better-preserved capitals is on display in the
Agora Museum and two of the capitals are in the National Museum.
To the N of the Athena Temple are the foundations of a smaller, later
5th c. B.C. temple. Foundations for the two columns which originally stood along
the front, the marble threshold, the side and back walls made of local brown stone,
and the blue Eleusinian base for the cult statue can be seen.
In the area around Sounion remains of at least five farming establishments
have been found. Their most prominent feature is a towerlike structure, which
probably served to protect both the inhabitants of the farm and the farm goods
during piratical raids.
I. M. Shear, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites,
Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Sep 2002 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains 54 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Sunium (Sounion: Eth. Sounieus), the name of a promontory and demus
on the southern coast of Attica. The promontory, which forms the most southerly
point in the country, rises almost perpendicularly from the sea to a great height,
and was crowned with a temple of Athena, the tutelary goddess of Attica. (Paus.
i. 1. § 1; Sounion hiron, Hom. Od. iii. 278; Soph. Ajax, 1235; Eurip. Cycl. 292;
Vitruv. iv. 7). Sunium was fortified in the nineteenth year of the Peloponnesian
War (B.C. 413) for the purpose of protecting the passage of the cornships to Athens
(Thuc. viii. 4), and was regarded from that time as one of the principal fortreses
of Attica (Comp. Dem. pro Cor. p. 238; Liv. xxxi. 25; Scylax, p. 21.) Its proximity
to the silver mines of Laurium probably contributed to its prosperity, which passed
into a proverb (Anaxand. ap. Athen. vi. p. 263, c.); but even in the time of Cicero
it had sunk into decay (ad Att. xiii. 10). The circuit of the walls may still
be traced, except where the precipitous nature of the rocks afforded a natural
defence. The walls which are fortified with square towers, are of the most regular
Hellenic masonry, and enclose a space or a little more than half a mile in circumference.
The southern part of Attica, extending northwards from the promontory of Sunium
as far as Thoricus on the east, and Anaphlystus on the west, is called by Herodotus
the Suniac angle (ton gounon ton Souniakon, iv. 99). Though Sunium was especially
sacred to Athena, we learn from Aristophanes (Equit. 557, Aves, 869) that Poseidon
was also worshipped there.
The promontory of Sunium is now called Cape Kolonnes, from the ruins
of the temple of Athena which still crown its summit. Leake observes that the
temple was a Doric hexastyle; but none of the columns of the fronts remain. The
original number of those in the flanks is uncertain; but there are still standing
nine columns of the southern, and three of the northern side, with their architraves,
together with the two columns and one of the antae of the pronaus, also bearing
their architraves. The columns of the peristyle were 3 feet 4 inches in diameter
at the base, and 2 feet 7 inches under the capital, with an intercolumniation
below of 4 feet 11 inches. The height, including the capital, was 19 feet 3 inches.
The exposed situation of the building has caused a great corrosion in the surface
of the marble, which was probably brought from the neighbouring mountains; for
it is less homogeneous, and of a coarser grain, than the marble of Pentele. The
walls of the fortress were faced with the same kind of stone. The entablature
of the peristyle of the temple was adorned with sculpture, some remains of which
have been found among the ruins. North of the temple, and nearly in a line with
its eastern front, are foundations of the Propylaeum or entrance into the sacred
peribolus: it was about 50 feet long and 30 broad, and presented at either end
a front of two Doric columns between antae, supporting a pediment. The columns
were 17 feet high, including the capital, 2 feet 10 inches in diameter at the
base, with an opening between them of 8 feet 8 inches. (The Demi of Attica, p.
63, 2nd ed.) Leake remarks that there are no traces of any third building visible,
and that we must therefore conclude that here, as in the temple of Athena Polias
at Athens, Poseidon was honoured only with an altar. Wordsworth, however, remarks
that a little to the NE. of the peninsula on which the temple stands is a conical
hill, where are extensive vestiges of an ancient building, which may perhaps be
the remains of the temple of Poseidon. (Athens and Attica, p. 207.)
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)