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The Cape of Sounio is one of the most popular spots for a day trip from Athens. It’s often visited by both the Athenians and the foreign tourists, especially in the summer. There are some nice beaches around the cape but the main attraction is the ancient Temple of Poseidon. The ancient temple built at the southern tip of the cape and surrounded on all three sides by sea is a magnificent sight. The construction of the temple dates back to around 400 BC even though the cape itself was dedicated to the good of the sea since far earlier days.
According to the legend, Sounio was the place of the tragic death of Aegeus, the king of Athens. When his son Theseus famously killed the Minotaur in Crete and was returning victorious to Athens he forgot to change his sails from black to white as he agreed with his father. When Aegeus saw the black sails he wrongly understood his sons’ faith and filled with grief he fell from the cliff. Since then, the sea where he fell is called the Aegean Sea.
However, we didn’t come to admire the Temple of Poseidon this time. Our plan was to explore the Sounio National Park spreading over the hills between Sounio and the port of Lavrio further north. The park is not very well-known and visited. At least I haven’t heard about it until recently when I was searching for an easy day trip from Athens accessible by KTEL.
The buses for Sounio and Lavrio leave from one of the bus’s stops at Pedion Areos park near Victoria station in the center of Athens. The bus ticket costs 6.60 for Sounio or 5.30 for Lavrio. The ride to Sounio takes around one and half hour. I wish we could start our walk at Lavrio and walk towards Sounio as the sunsets over the temple are magnificent. However, the buses from Sounio run only until 18:00 and we didn’t want to risk losing the last one.
We got off the bus at the Grecotel Resort at Sounio and continued in the direction of the cape until we saw a dirt road heading to the left. Asking the locals for directions was useless as everyone tried to steer us away from the hills and towards the Temple of Poseidon. There are no shops or cafes at this part of Sounio so don’t forget to take food and water with you. We haven’t and had to rely on the few springs along the way for water and the hospitable folks at Agia Barbara church preparing πανηγύρι.
There are no marked paths or maps of the area but once we found the dirt road it was pretty straightforward. The road climbs up and around the left side of the hill until it joins an asphalt road at the Agia Varvara church. If you turn around during the climb you will be rewarded by beautiful views of the Temple of Poseidon surmounted in the distance against the glistening sea.
From Agia Varvara, we followed the asphalt road to the north towards the village of Agios Konstantinos. Walking on an asphalt road wouldn’t usually be my first choice, I much prefer broken muddy paths. However, the road winding over the green hills of the Sounio National Park is a quiet one with beautiful views towards the sea and the islands of Makronisi and Kea. The entire route is ideal for cycling and can be done by a car, too.
Sounio National Park
The Sounio National park was established in 1974 and with just 5.250 acres is the smallest national park of Greece. Even though the countryside of the park is beautiful the main treasures lie underneath. Under the green hills covered by pine forests lies a land rich in minerals, such as lead, iron or silver.
The beginnings of the mining industry in the area of Lavreotiki date back to the 3rd century BC. However, the golden years of Lavrio come at around the 6th and 5th century with the advancement in technology. The silver of Lavrio brought great wealth to Athens and contributed to the victory of the Greeks against the Persians at the battle of Salamina.
The mining continued on and off through the ages until finally coming to the end at the 20th centuries leaving behind an area riddled with tunnels, caves, and galleries. There are several archaeological sites of the ancient workshops scattered over the hills and uncountable ruined dwellings and plants from later times.
Just before reaching the church of Agia Triada there is a road branching to the right going to the site of an ancient workshop open only after arranging a visit with the Museum of Lavrio. However, part of the workshops and washing plants is accessible from the Agia Triada church as well as some underground tunnels and caves. In front of the church, there is a spring and picknick tables shaded by pine trees making it the perfect spot for a lunch break.
The Gulch of Chaos
Leaving the Agia Triada church we continued on the asphalt road flanked by picturesque ruins and pine groves until we reached another highlight of our walk, the impressive gulch of Chaos. This circular sinkhole with walls up to 50m was probably created by a collapsing ceiling of an unexplored cave. The fence surrounding the gulch is full of holes so it’s easy to enter for a careful photo session or with the right equipment and skill for rock climbing or speleology.
With the winter sun setting quickly towards the sea we left Chaos and continued to the village of Agios Konstantinos. At the first houses of the village we saw a busy asphalt road joining Lavrio with the Athenian southern suburbs. This is the fastest option to get back to Athens if coming by car.
However, we wanted to enjoy a little bit more peace and quiet before getting back to Athens. Therefore, we continued towards the village and took a right turn after passing some shabby basketball courts optimistically named “The Athletic Center”. This way we descended down to Lavrio through a wooded ravine and pass the old plants of the Technological Park Lavrion illuminated by the beautiful evening light.
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