Temple of Athena Nike

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Northeast view of the temple of Athena Nike after its recent anastylosis which integrated many original stones of the temple.

The Temple of Athena Nike (Greek: Ναός Αθηνάς Νίκης) is a temple on the Acropolis of Athens. Built around 420BC, the temple is the earliest fully Ionic temple on the Acropolis. It has a prominent position on a steep bastion at the south west corner of the Acropolis to the right of the entrance, the Propylaea. In contrast to the Acropolis proper, a walled sanctuary entered through the Propylaea, the Nike Sanctuary was open, entered from the Propylaea's southwest wing and from a narrow stair on the north. The sheer walls of its bastion were protected on the north, west, and south by the Nike Parapet, named for its frieze of Nikai celebrating victory and sacrificing to their patroness, Athena Nike.

Nike means victory in Greek, and Athena was worshiped in this form, as goddess of victory in war and wisdom. The citizens worshiped the goddess in hope of a prosperous outcome in the long Peloponnesian War fought on land and sea against the Spartans and their allies.

History of the Temple[edit]

In the sixth century BC a cult of Athena Nike was established and a small temple was built using Mycenaean fortification and Cyclopean masonry. After the temple was demolished by the Persians in 480BC a new temple was built over the remains. The new temple plans were underway in 449BC and the temple was finished around 420BC. The temple was an expression of Athens' ambitions to defeat Sparta and become a world power. The temple sat untouched until it was demolished in 1686 by the Turks who used the stones to build defenses against the Venetians. It wasn't until 1834 that the temple was reconstructed after the emancipation of Greece. In 1998 the temple was dismantled so that the crumbling concrete floor could be replaced and its frieze was removed and placed in the Acropolis Museum.


Temple architecture[edit]

Floor plan

The Temple of Athena Nike was built around 420BC, during the Peace of Nicias. It is a tetrastyle (four column) Ionic structure with a colonnaded portico at both front and rear facades (amphiprostyle), designed by the architect Kallikrates. The columns along the east and west fronts were monolithic columns. The temple ran 27 feet long by 18 and a half feet wide and 23 feet tall. The total height from the stylobate to the acme of the pediment while the temple remained intact was a modest 23 feet. The ratio of height to diameter of the columns is 7:1, the slender proportions creating an elegance and refinement not encountered in the normal 9:1 or 10:1 of Ionic buildings. Constructed from white pentelic marble, it was built in stages as war-starved funding allowed.

A well-known relief from the parapet around the temple which shows an ancient goddess fixing her sandal. It is housed at the Acropolis Museum.




Cult Statue and Frieze[edit]

A statue of Nike stood in the cella, or otherwise referred to as a naos. Nike was originally the "winged victory" goddess (see the winged Nike of Samothrace) The Athena Nike statue's absence of wings led Athenians in later centuries to call it Apteros Nike or wingless victory, and the story arose that the statue was deprived of wings so that it could never leave the city.

The friezes of the building's entablature were decorated on all sides with relief sculpture in the idealized classical style of the 5th century BC. The north frieze depicted a battle between Greeks entailing cavalry. The south frieze showed the decisive victory over the Persians at the battle of Plataea. The east frieze showed an assembly of the gods Athena, Zeus and Poseidon, rendering Athenian religious beliefs and reverence for the gods bound up in the social and political climate of 5th Century Athens.

Some time after the temple was completed, around 410 BC a parapet was added around it to prevent people from falling from the steep bastion. The outside of the parapet was adorned by exquisitely carved relief sculptures showing Nike in a variety of activities, the best-known Olympian.

An 1893 photograph of the Acropolis showing the Beulé Gate, Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike

Architects Christian Hansen and Eduard Schaubert excavated the temple in the 1830s. The building had been totally dismantled in the 17th century and the stone built into the Turkish wall that surrounded the hill. A primitive anastylosis was carried out in 1836 when the temple was re-erected from remaining parts. A third restoration was completed in Summer 2010.[1] The main structure, stylobate and columns are largely intact, minus the roof and most of the tympanae. Fragments of the sculpted frieze are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum and the British Museum; copies of these are fixed in their place on the temple.

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Coordinates: 37°58′17″N 23°43′30″E / 37.9715°N 23.7249°E / 37.9715; 23.7249