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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Temple of Athena Nike

This Classical temple is considerably smaller than the other temples of the Acropolis. It is the first building that greets the visitors who approach the Propylaia and its elegant Ionic features balance the dominating Doric character of the Propylaia. It faces to the east and its entrance is lined with four monolithic Ionic columns that support a shallow porch. The west end is similarly treated with four Ionic columns and a porch, but they preceded a blind wall. The inclusion of a tetrastyle (four columns) at the back of the temple was necessary for this side faced the entrance to the Acropolis.


This temple was surrounded by a parapet or a low wall, faced with sculptured panels depicting Athena presiding over the preparation of a celebration by winged Nikes (victory figures). The parapet no longer exists, but some panels have survived, including the greatly admired Nike Adjusting Her Sandal. Unlike the decorative swirls of heavy fabric covering the Parthenon goddesses, or the weighty, pleated robes of the Erechtheion caryatids, the textile covering this Nike appears delicate and light, clinging to her body like we silk, one of the most discretely erotic images in ancient art.
Early in its history it was a place of worship for deities associated with wars, perhaps Bronze Age “Nike” gods or goddesses, which with time fused with the cult of Athena Nike of later centuries. During the Archaic era a small temple stood on the site that faced an altar to its east. This building was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE along with the rest of the Acropolis, and was not rebuilt until 435 BCE.

The Classical temple that has survived was completed in 420 BCE. From several ancient accounts  and by Pausanias we know the statue of Athena Nike in its cella was made of wood and held a pomegrade in the right hand and a helmet in the left. Since it had no wings, as it was customary for Nike statues of the time, the temple acquired the name Apteros Nike (wing-less victory). It is said that the statue was deprived of wings so it could never leave the city of Athens.

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