Cape Sounion is the southernmost point of Attica, and in antiquity, as today, sailors knew they were getting near Athens when they caught sight of the Temple of Poseidon's slender Doric columns. According to legend, it was at Sounion that Theseus's father, King Aegeus, awaited his son's return from his journey to Crete to slay the Minotaur. The king had told his son to have his ship return with white sails if he survived the encounter, and with black sails if he met death in the Cretan labyrinth. In the excitement of his victory, Theseus forgot his father's words, and the ship returned with black sails. When Aegeus saw the black sails, he threw himself, heartbroken, into the sea—forever afterward known as the Aegean. One of the reasons Sounion is so spectacular is that 15 of the temple's original 34 columns are still standing. A popular pastime here is trying to find the spot on a column where Lord Byron carved his name. After you find Byron's name, you may wish to sit in the shade of a column, enjoy the spectacular view over the sea, envy the solitude and quiet Byron found here, and recite these lines on Sounion from the poet's Don Juan:
Place me on Sunium's marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep . . .
There was also a Temple of Athena here (almost entirely destroyed); it's easy to think of Sounion as purely a religious spot in antiquity. Nothing could be more wrong: The entire sanctuary (of which little remains other than the Poseidon Temple itself) was heavily fortified during the Peloponnesian War because of its strategic importance overlooking the sea routes. Much of the grain that fed Athens arrived from outside Attica in ships that had to sail past Cape Sounion. In fact, Sounion had something of an unsavory reputation as the haunt of pirates in antiquity; it would be uncharitable to think that their descendants run today's nearby souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes.
You can also swim in the sea below and grab a snack at one of the overpriced seaside restaurants, of which the Akrogiali (here since 1887), by the Aegeon Hotel, is a favorite, and Elias is just as good if not better. Or bring a picnic to enjoy on the beach. If you want to spend the night, the Grecotel Cape Sounio (tel. 22920/69-700; www.grecotel.gr) has all the creature comforts.