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Temple of Nike, Athens

Temple of Nike, Athens

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Temple of Athena Nike

The southwest of the Acropolis plateau, right next to the Propylaia, has been an important location of a sanctuary dating back to the Mycenaean era. It is a protruding tall mass of rock, strategically located in a way that protects the south flank of the most vulnerable access point and gate to the citadel.

Early in its history it was a place of worship for deities associated with wars, perhaps Bronze Age &ldquoNike&rdquo gods or goddesses, which with time fused with the cult of Athena Nike of later centuries. Excavations have revealed that on this location an open pit existed that Bronze Age Greeks used to pour libations and to deposit primitive figurines of the deities worshiped.

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.

The 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.

The temple was designed by Kallikrates and is 11 feet tall from the stylobate to the apex of its pediment. As was customary in Attica (but not in Ionia) the temple was decorated with a continuous frieze.

The temple's ratio of the column height to its length is 7:1 instead of the customary 9:1 of other Ionic temples.

The parapet of the Temple of Athena Nike surrounded the temple and acted as a guardrail to protect people from falling off the steep bastion. It was elaborately decorated by relief sculptures which were seen best by the visitors ascending the ramp towards the Propylaia. It depicted not a coherent story like the Parthenon frieze, but instead it was decorated with a number of Nike relief sculptures in various states of activity. The parapet was built after the temple was complete, perhaps as late as 410 BCE.

Much later in its history in 1687, during Ottoman occupation the temple of Athena Nike was dismantled when the &ldquoVenetians&rdquo besieged the Turks at the Acropolis. The Turks used the stones from the temple to build a bastion next to the Propylaia. The &ldquoVenetians&rdquo finally forced the Turks to surrender after eight days of intense bombardment, and the temple stones remained as part of the bastion until the liberation of Greece. In 1834 during systematic excavations and rebuilding of the Acropolis by Ross and Hansen the bastion was dismantled and the temple was reconstructed during the next four years.

In the late 1930s under the direction of N. Balanos and Orlandos the entire bastion along with the temple was dismantled in order to address structural problems with the sub-structure and was reconstructed by 1940. In 1998 the temple began a new cycle of reconstruction. The frieze was removed and placed in the Acropolis museum, and the temple dismantled completely once again to replace the corroded concrete floor and the iron beams that were present as the result of previous reconstructions.

Nike adjusting her sandal, Athens, Greece, 410 BCE

The following is a relief found in the Temple of Athena Nike.

relief of Nike adjusting her sandal

The Temple of Athena Nike is an example of an ionic temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena (the temple also references victories over Persians, such as in its name and in a frieze that depicted a decisive battle). Inside, the parapet of the temple celebrates the goddess and victory, and Nike’s images is repeated several times in different positions. The relief pictured above is one such example.

The relief depicts Nike adjusting her sandal— an awkward position that the sculptor rendered elegant and graceful. The artist displays high technical skill. Nike’s body is sculpted in a naturalistic manner and the drapery covering her body seems to be almost transparent, as if drenched in water. The drapery seems to stick to Nike’s body and through the drapery, one can see the perfectly-rendered form of the human body. However, the artist was interested in much more than simply depicting the young female form. He also included intricate and realistic detail of the patterns in the drapery folds.

I am so impressed by this statue. Not only did the artist perfect sculpt the human body, he perfectly sculpted the human body under a layer of drapery. The drapery and the body display the high level of technical skill. To me, it is uncanny how life-like and realistic this sculpture of Nike is. Being a high relief, the sculpture comes to life and seems to emerge from the marble!

Angelokastro is a Byzantine castle on the island of Corfu. It is located at the top of the highest peak of the island"s shoreline in the northwest coast near Palaiokastritsa and built on particularly precipitous and rocky terrain. It stands 305 m on a steep cliff above the sea and surveys the City of Corfu and the mountains of mainland Greece to the southeast and a wide area of Corfu toward the northeast and northwest.

Angelokastro is one of the most important fortified complexes of Corfu. It was an acropolis which surveyed the region all the way to the southern Adriatic and presented a formidable strategic vantage point to the occupant of the castle.

Angelokastro formed a defensive triangle with the castles of Gardiki and Kassiopi, which covered Corfu"s defences to the south, northwest and northeast.

The castle never fell, despite frequent sieges and attempts at conquering it through the centuries, and played a decisive role in defending the island against pirate incursions and during three sieges of Corfu by the Ottomans, significantly contributing to their defeat.

During invasions it helped shelter the local peasant population. The villagers also fought against the invaders playing an active role in the defence of the castle.

The exact period of the building of the castle is not known, but it has often been attributed to the reigns of Michael I Komnenos and his son Michael II Komnenos. The first documentary evidence for the fortress dates to 1272, when Giordano di San Felice took possession of it for Charles of Anjou, who had seized Corfu from Manfred, King of Sicily in 1267.

From 1387 to the end of the 16th century, Angelokastro was the official capital of Corfu and the seat of the Provveditore Generale del Levante, governor of the Ionian islands and commander of the Venetian fleet, which was stationed in Corfu.

The governor of the castle (the castellan) was normally appointed by the City council of Corfu and was chosen amongst the noblemen of the island.

Angelokastro is considered one of the most imposing architectural remains in the Ionian Islands.

Temple of Athena Nike

The Temple of Athena Nike on the Nike Bastion. The temple is amphiprostyle, with four Ionic columns each in front and behind the main cella, designed by the architect Kallicrates. Inside the cella would have stood the cult statue of Athena holding a helmet in one hand and a pomegranate (symbol of fertility) in the other.

The Turks dismantled the temple in 1686, and it has been reassembled twice since then. 1998’s effort (note the scaffolding) is yet another step in restoring its original beauty.

The frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike depicts the Battle of Plataea, the victory of the Greeks over the Persians in 479 BC., a historical, not mythological, art motif. Four of the original 14 slabs are now on display in the British Museum (upper right).

As patron goddess, Athena merits the epithet Nike, or “bringer of victory,” but Nike is a winged goddess. Pausanias claims that the Athenians worship a wingless – Apteros – Athena to prevent her from deserting the city and taking away hope of future victories (this is not unlike the explanation that the British monarchy will fall once the ravens leave the Tower of London – thus each bird has one winged clipped to frustrate flight edited 11/07/03).

Temple of Athena Nike. Note the curved corner Ionic capital. Surrounding the temple at its base (just visible in the left corner) was a marble parapet sculptured in high relief. This piece (photo on right) detailing Athena adjusting her sandal belongs to this group dated to 410 BC (inset).
Entryway to remains of 6th century temple, destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC, directly beneath the Temple of Athena Nike. In the background is the Aegean Sea, namesake of Aegeus, mythical king of Athens. Tradition has it that Aegeus leapt into the sea after jumping to the wrong conclusion that his son Theseus had been killed by the Minotaur, a monster he had sailed to Crete to dispatch (Theseus forgot to change his sails from black to white). It is hardly likely, however, that Aegeus leapt into the sea from here, no matter what Pausanias says (1.21.5). The alternate tale, which gives Cape Sounion as the site of Aegeus’ plunge, is much more likely.

Directly below the Temple of Athena Nike lay the remains of an earlier sixth century Temple to the same goddess. On the left is possibly the base of the cult statue of Athena from that earlier temple. Lead was apparently poured into the base to secure a statue. When Balanos found this base, it was covered over with stone and filled with phi and psi statues (Mycenean votives), representations perhaps of the cult figure removed to safety

Offerings were also present in the form of food. On the right is possibly a base for another statue of Athena, but this statue would have been seated. This wall is really an extension of a column that supports the corner of the Temple of Athena Nike above. The Turks stored gunpowder in this crypt.

Nike's Origin

The Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses features three waves of leading deities. The primordial gods were the first to emerge from Chaos—Gaia, the Earth Mother Kronos, the spirit of Time Uranus, the sky and Thalassa, the spirit of the sea, among them. Their children, the Titans (Prometheus who gave fire to man is probably the most famous) replaced them. In turn, the Olympians— Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, and Aphrodite—defeated them and became the leading gods.

By now you are probably wondering what all this has to do with Nike. It goes some way to explain her complicated origin. According to one story, she is the daughter of Pallas, the Titan god of warcraft who fought on the side of the Olympians, and Styx, a nymph, a daughter of Titans and presiding spirit of the major river of the Underworld. In an alternative story, recorded by Homer, she is the daughter of Ares, Zeus's son and the Olympian god of war - but the tales of Nike probably predates stories of Ares by millennia.

By the classical period, many of these early gods and goddesses had been reduced to the role of attributes or aspects of the leading gods, much as the pantheon of Hindu gods are symbolic aspects of the main gods. So Pallas Athena is the representation of the goddess as a warrior and Athena Nike is the goddess victorious.

Golden Age of the Acropolis

If the Acropolis was impressive during the Mycenaean Civilization, it was nothing short of spectacular during the Golden Age of Athens (460 B.C. to 430 B.C.) under the rule of Pericles when Athens was at its cultural peak.

Determined to bring the Acropolis to a level of splendor not seen before, Pericles initiated a massive building project that lasted 50 years. Under his direction, two well-known architects, Callicrates and Ictinus, and renowned sculptor Phidias helped plan and execute the Pericles’ plan.

Pericles didn’t live long enough to see his entire Acropolis vision come true, but temple builders and architects continued working until they completed the project. The southern and northern walls were rebuilt and some of the most iconic structures in the world were constructed such as:

The Parthenon: An enormous Doric-style temple that remains the star attraction of the Acropolis. It featured ornate sculptures and housed a spectacular statue of the goddess Athena.

The Propylaea: A monumental entryway to the Acropolis that included a central building and two wings, one of which was covered with elaborately painted panels.

The Temple of Athena Nike: A small Ionic-style temple located to the right of the Propylaea built as a shrine to Athena Nike.

The Erechtheion: A sacred Ionic temple made of marble which honored Athena and several other gods and heroes. It’s best known for its porch supported by six Caryatid maiden statues.

The Statue of Athena Promachos: A gigantic (almost 30 feet tall) bronze statue of Athena that stood next to the Propylaea.

The Acropolis saw few changes after Sparta won the Peloponnesian War, although a minor temple honoring Caesar Augustus and Rome was built in 27 B.C.

Athena Nike Frieze

The small temple of Athena Nike right next to the Propylaia was decorated with a continuous Ionic freeze as was customary in Attica (temples in Ionia itself did not include a frieze).

The north frieze as well as the south one depicts a battle of Greeks against Persians, and it is the earliest example of sculpture commemorative of specific historical events. The relief of the west wall represents a battle between Greeks and other Greeks (perhaps a reference to the ongoing Peloponnesian war), while the East frieze above the colonnade of the entrance shows a number of gods and deities in various stages of activity.

The art itself is indicative of a developing style that had mastered accurate representation and was now content with exploring other aesthetic issues. The figures are elongated wearing drapery that not only clothes them but with its deep folds creates a rhythmic visual pattern. The bodies are contorted in extreme, almost awkward poses bestowing a degree of expressionist anxiety to the idealized figures. These stylistic innovations act as a prelude to the development of the soon to be realized Hellenistic art.

Temple of Athena Nike - History bibliographies - in Harvard style

Your Bibliography: Ahistoryofgreece.com. 2015. History of Greece: The Golden Age of Greece. [online] Available at: <http://www.ahistoryofgreece.com/goldenage.htm> [Accessed 27 April 2015].

The Temple of Athena Nike

2014 - Boundless

In-text: (The Temple of Athena Nike, 2014)

Your Bibliography: Boundless, 2014. The Temple of Athena Nike. [online] Available at: <https://www.boundless.com/art-history/textbooks/boundless-art-history-textbook/ancient-greece-6/the-high-classical-period-66/the-temple-of-athena-nike-342-5328/> [Accessed 27 April 2015].

Maunder, T.

Temple of Athena Nike

In-text: (Maunder, 2015)

Your Bibliography: Maunder, T., 2015. Temple of Athena Nike. [online] prezi.com. Available at: <https://prezi.com/2ph1zre_cef2/temple-of-athena-nike/> [Accessed 27 April 2015].

Sakoulas, T.

Temple of Athena Nike

In-text: (Sakoulas, 2015)

Your Bibliography: Sakoulas, T., 2015. Temple of Athena Nike. [online] Ancient-greece.org. Available at: <http://ancient-greece.org/architecture/athena-nike.html> [Accessed 27 April 2015].

Greek Architecture: History, Characteristics

In-text: (Greek Architecture: History, Characteristics, 2015)


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Erechtheum, ionic temple of Athena, built during 421–405 bc on the Acropolis at Athens, famous largely for its complexity and for the exquisite perfection of its details. The temple’s Ionic capitals are the most beautiful that Greece produced, and its distinctive porch, supported by caryatid figures, is unequaled in classical architecture.

The name, of popular origin, is derived from a shrine dedicated to the Greek hero Erichthonius. It is believed by some that the temple was erected in honour of the legendary king Erechtheus. The architect was probably Mnesicles. In the early 19th century, Thomas Bruce, 7th earl of Elgin, took several sections of the temple to London. Later, in the early 20th century, it was somewhat restored.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Robert Lewis, Assistant Editor.

Watch the video: 360º Video from Propylaea. Nike Temple in Athens Greece (May 2022).