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.

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