Poised at the edge of a rugged 195-foot cliff, the Temple of Poseidon hovers between sea and sky, its "marbled steep, where nothing, save the waves and I may hear our mutual murmurs sweep" unchanged in the centuries since Lord Byron penned these lines. Today the archaeological site at Sounion is one of the most photographed in Greece. The coast's raw, natural beauty has attracted affluent Athenians, whose splendid summer villas dot the shoreline around the temple. There is a tourist café-restaurant by the temple, and a few minimarts on the road, but no village proper. Arrange your visit so that you enjoy the panorama of sea and islands from this airy platform either early in the morning, before the summer haze clouds visibility and the tour groups arrive, or at dusk, when the promontory has one of the most spectacular sunset vantage points in Attica.
In antiquity, the view from the cliff was matched emotion for emotion by the sight of the cape (called the "sacred headland" by Homer) and its mighty temple when viewed from the sea—a sight that brought joy to sailors, knowing upon spotting the massive temple that they were close to home. Aegeus, the legendary king of Athens, threw himself off the cliff when he saw the approaching ship of his son, Theseus, flying a black flag. The king's death was a Greek tragedy born of misunderstanding: Theseus, returning from a mission to slay the Minotaur in Crete, had forgotten to change his ship's sails from black to white—the signal that his mission had succeeded. So the king thought his son had been killed. To honor Aegeus, the Greeks named their sea, the Aegean, after him.