memories of family outings.....

Friday

High above the Aegean Sea...


There was a picture of an event called Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in the newspapers. The building forming the backdrop to the competitors looked familiar. Cape Sounion ! So, Sounion has some life after all ! When we visited the place some five odd years ago, it was dead. Absolutely dead.

During a holiday in Athens, we were badgered, almost bullied , into taking the trip to the historical promontory on the west coast of the Attica region , supposed to be home to The Temple Of Poseidon.
We took the Highway 91 out of Athens and wound past beautiful little hamlets scattered along what is called the Aegean Riviera, the road hugging lengthy stretches of shimmering seacoast. It was a very enjoyable drive.

70 kms. later we landed on a hillock by the choppy waters of the Aegean Sea. A signpost announced Sounion. We marched from the parking lot through a ramp like pathway between high stone walls and soon emerged on the small plateau. But............. no Poseidon, no temple. Just two rows of giant marble columns with neither roof nor walls. Presumed date : 440 BC. Time, tide and theft had stripped the monument of all its glory ; whatever was left was, in modern times, carted off to museums for safe keeping. So, at the end of a long, expectant jouney, we just had a dozen massive coloumns to stare at. Our power of imagination had to be summoned to fill in the blanks.

A bit of ambling around the cliff top brought us to another, smaller but equally ruined, remnant of an ancient temple, this one to Athena. And some dark , decayed lines of stacked stones lay around carrying the echos from the glorious past when Athenians fortified this cape in preparation for The Peloponnesian War against the Spartans .
The breathtaking panoramic view of the sea on three sides more than made up for the deficiency in visible history. It was possible to sit on the boulders at the edge of the headland under the canopy of a dazzling blue sky, without sense of time , and lose oneself in the invigorating sea-breeze, the gentle warmth of a friendly sun and the call of the circling gulls. The smudges of green and brown seen on the water were little islands, each with its own share of history and mythology. I avoided dwelling on the rather sad legend of Aegeus,Theseus and Minotaur that is linked to the place.



Cape Sounion is promoted as an excellent venue for watching sunsets. Its easy to see why. But we did not wait till dusk.
Before heading back, we decided to get some refreshment in the only modern amenity there. A small cottage with a tavern and a coffee shop. The fare sold here is prohibitively expensive. ( my coffee cost 4 .5Euros ! )Understandable, since even the nearest village, from where the stocks could be replenished, is some distance away . This being a "protected" site, building or development activity of any sort is prohibited.

The romantic english poet, Lord Byron,( my teenage heart throb !) is said to have etched his signature at the base of one of the coloumns of Sounion. But since there was a cordon around the foundation, i could not get close enough to hunt it down. All we could see were some scratched graffitti , of various vintages, here and there ( that explains the cordon) . Had to be content with the thought that one of them was Byron's.


On our way back to Athens, we saw many fishing boats returning to coast. People clustering around the fresh catch, some music and dancing around community barbeques, seagulls everywhere. Simple, lively and so merry. Perhaps, the scene would've been the same , all those eons ago,when Poseidon lorded it over the Aegean Coast.


( Photos : by son)

5 comments:

avdi said...

Lovely. Whenever I visit ruins or any historical place, I get so overcome by the sense of its history. Even a mundane thing like getting off at Nizamuddin Railway Station (in New Delhi) filled me with wonder as I imagined Amir Khusrau roaming these very streets some centuries ago.

Hmm.. these days its so frowned upon to leave graffiti on historical monuments, but someone like Lord Byron doing it becomes history !

YOSEE said...

Avdi : i am a history-nut too. I like digging up past stories about any place i visit......i have my own doubts about the Byron "signature" there; in photographs, it looks like an immature hand. However that may be, i feel publicising well known names scribbled on monuments only encourages lesser loafers to follow their example.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

I'll join this club of history lovers! I guess we have this in common for sure. Nice to read this post. My Greek experience is limited to Rodos (Rhodes), little bit of Crete and Kerkyra (Corfu). Wanna go back to do Athens and Pavlopetri, the oldest known submerged town dating back to 2800 BC, with many structures intact and in shallow sea. The Greek Government has recently, in the last few months, given permission to explore this site.

YOSEE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Yosee, Pavlopetri exploration has just restarted. It is shallow water but at about 3-4 meters depth. Here is a link: http://historytodaymagazine.blogspot.com/2009/05/pavlopetri-preservation-of-oldest.html

Bet Dwarka is in turbid waters where visibility is not that good and currents are quite strong. That has not prevented under water archaeologists from discovering the site. I'd think that the area around Bet Dwarak and also some around the Gulf of Kambat (Cambay) area have submerged towns dating back to the same antiquity (or older) as Pavlopetri.