The Temple of Poseidon: History, Location & Facts

Instructor: Margaret Moran

Margaret is a writer and academic tutor with a passion for history. She holds bachelor's degrees in both history and biology as well as an M.A. in European history. She has worked with college students as a tutor and advisor for over a decade.

Poseidon was the ancient Greek god of the sea. The site of the mighty temple at Sounion honors him perfectly as the crag the temple is situated on plunges over 200 feet to the sea. This lesson examines the story behind the sea god's temple including the location and history.

The Building of the Great Temple

Poseidon's temple was constructed in 444 B.C.E, around the same time as the iconic Parthenon. It was an exciting time for architecture in ancient Greece, and Poseidon's temple was no exception, an imposing structure made of marble locally mined from Agrilesa. The temple boasted an open floor plan surrounded by six columns on the ends and thirteen along each side. Amazingly 13 of the original 34 remain standing to this day! It is thought that Perikles, the same man who designed the famous Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, was also responsibly for Poseidon's temple. Both structures have many similarities and are contructed in the classic Doric style. The temple even features a frieze, which depicts scenes of famous battles in mythology, though strangely none correspond directly to Poseidon.

The Temple of Poseidon

The temple was built on top of an already existing structure, an earlier attempt to build a temple to Poseidon. This original temple was destroyed by the invading Persian army. To celebrate the completion of the second temple, an inscription was placed inside proudly claiming the temple as belonging to the mighty god of the sea.

Location of The Temple of Poseidon

The site of the temple, Sounion, was famous long before it was graced with the Temple of Poseidon. Not only is it the place rumored to be where Aegeus, the king of Athens, threw himself into the sea, but 'The Santuary of Sounion' is mentioned in the Odyssey as the place that Menelaus buried one of his men after the Trojan War. Interestingly, the book is a story of the struggle of a man to return to his homeland after the Trojan War, but his progress is greatly delayed due to many disasters at sea, phenomena that are blamed on Poseidon.

The decision to place the temple on a cliff overlooking the sea was to honor the sea god. Sailors and mariners bound for Athens were able to see the gleaming white pillars from a great distance, giving them hope that their long journey home was almost complete. In ancient times it served as a lookout post, affording a view from its fortified tower of the surrounding lands. On a clear day one could see Kythnos to the south and Aegina to the west.

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