Landmarks: Sounion & Piraeus

The power of the Athenian Navy is reflected on its main port and the iconic Temple of Poseidon

The power of the city and of the state relied heavily on the Athenian navy. Themistocles’ choice of Piraeus for the main port and the building of hundreds of war vessels and ship sheds provided the initial impetus. The defeat of the Persians and the creation of the first Athenian confederacy, a primarily naval alliance of Aegean islands and Greek cities of Asia Minor, were made possible by the existence of the powerful Athenian fleet. At the height of its power, Athens had a fleet of 400 ships, powered by some 80,000 oarsmen. The latter were drawn from the poorest classes, paid by the state and regarded as an important force for the defense of the democracy. The choice of Cape Sounion – the southernmost tip of Attica in the Aegean and the last image of Athens seen by departing travelers – as the site for the Temple of Poseidon, was an obvious one. The god of the sea, the very embodiment of naval power, could not be absent from the city’s pantheon.

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