Temple of Athena Nike

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Introduction

Reconstruction of the Temple of Athena Nike by Kronoskaf - Snapshot of the real time rendering of the prototype
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Reconstruction of the Temple of Athena Nike by Kronoskaf - Snapshot of the real time rendering of the prototype

A sanctuary of Athena Nike was initialy established on the southwest bastion in 566 BC. The Persians sacked the sanctuary in 480 BC. A small temporary limestone temple was possibly built in the Early Classical Period (480-450 BC). The building of the new sanctuary was authorised by a decree of 449 BC. Work probably began, at a slow pace, around 447 BC. The small Ionic Temple, entirely built of marble, was begun around 430 BC and was completed in 423 BC. The construction may have been originally directed by Kallikrates who adapted the plan of one of his former construction: the temple of Artemis Agrotera.

The temple was amphiprostyle in the Ionic order.

Southwest Bastion

As construction started around 447 BC, the southwest trapezoidal bastion itself was restored with new limestone walls of ashlar masonry with alternate courses of headers and stretchers. Since the bastion was built on a rocky spur, the number of courses of its walls varied according to the configuration of the rock. The three walls were adorned with shields captured from the Spartans.

The north wall, 8.6 m high at its west corner, was aligned with the facade of the Southwest Wing of the Propylaea. Near the east end of this north wall, a small staircase of 7 steps gave access to the Monumental Access Ramp of the Akropolis. The three lowest steps were 1.315 m wide, while the two next ones were slightly wider, fitting around the anta. Immediatly to the west of this staircase, the wall counted eight courses. This north wall extended a further 9.14 m to the west of this staircase. At its west end, it counted sixteen courses. A polygonal opening was left in this north wall allowing people ascending the Monumental Ramp to see a part of the old Cyclopean Wall dating from Mycenaean.

The 10.725 m long west wall formed an angle of 107º 57’ with the north wall. Starting with 16 courses at its north end, its height gradually increases to 21 courses at its south end. In the middle of the base of the west wall, two old Mycenaean niches (2.7 m high) divided by a stone pier were preserved and restored.

The 19.44 m long south wall formed an angle of 90º with the west wall. Starting with 21 courses at its west end, its height gradually decreases to nil at its east end where it intersects with the old walls of the Akropolis.

The walls were crowned with a cornice of Pentelic marble and the entire sanctuary was paved with marble.

The sanctuary could be accessed from the southwest wing of the Propylaea or from a small stairway connecting it with the Monumental Access Ramp.

Parapet

A marble balustrade, 0.9 m high (excluding mouldings), topped the marble cornices of the three walls of the bastion. This balustrade also extended to the stairway connecting the bastion to the Monumental Access Ramp. The balustrade itself was crowned by a marble moulding and by a bronze grille.

This balustrade consisted of 2 slabs to the east of the small staircase, 8 slabs over the north wall, 9 over the west wall and 16 over the south wall.

Altar of Athena Nike

The west face of the altar of Athena Nike was located some 1.7 m to the east of the platform of the temple. It stood on a platform measuring 0.223 m high by 4.08 m wide.

Platform

The platform had four steps. Only the upper part (0.094 m) of its the euthynteria (lowest step) was visible above the pavement. The stereobate measured 9.36 m deep by 6.6 m wide while the stylobate measured 8.268 m deep by 5.64 m wide. The east side of the stylobate consisted of three marble blocks.

Architrave

The Ionic architrave had three fasciae.

Frieze

A 0.448 m high frieze ran all around the temple. It carried sculpted scenes.

The north and west friezes both depicted a Battle between Greek hoplites.

The south frieze illustrated a Battle between Greek and Persian cavalrymen.

The east frieze depicted an Assembly of Gods. Aphrodite, bending over and placing her foot on a rock, and Peitho probably occupied the extreme left with Dionysos, Amphitrite and, sitting on a rock, Poseidion to their right. A fully armed Athena stood in the center with an unidentified god to her right (maybe Hephaistos). Then came Zeus on his throne, Hera, Herakles and, finally Hermes, the Graces and Hygieia, at the extreme right.

N.B.: Some authors argue that the friezes depicting warriors commemorate the Battle of Marathon while others think that the south frieze commemorates the Battle of Plataea and the north and west friezes depict battles that were fought after the Persian Wars.

Pronaos

The pronaos had four monolithic Ionic columns, each 4.066 m high, leaning inward.

Opisthodomos

The opisthodomos had four monolithic Ionic columns, each 4.066 m high, leaning inward.

Cella

The cella consisted of a single room measuring approximately 5.5 m wide by 8 m deep. Its north and south walls leaned slightly inward. The room was not completely rectangular. It stood on two very low steps.

The north, south and west walls were solid. The east wall was pierced with three openings. The central one, the entrance of the cella, stood between two monolithic pilasters connected to the antaea with railings. The main entrance was 1.505 m wide while the secondary openings had a width of 1.07 m. A grille on the upper step of the cella closed the sanctuary.

The mouldings at the base and on the epikranitis of the antae were continued all around the walls. The walls consisted of a 0.735 m high orthostate and 8 courses of marble blocks.

Statue of Athena Nike

The Archaic statue of Athena Nike located on a marble base in the temple was made around 550 BC. It was probably an under life-size wooden statue in a standing position. It probably held a pomegrenate in its right hand and a helmet in its left. The statue was not burnt by the Persians in 480 BC, so we can assume that it had been carried away by the Athenians during their temporary exile.

The dedication of the statue in its recently completed precinct occured in 425/4 BC.

Roof

The cyma was adorned with lions head and a painted design of lotos and palmettes.

The east and west gilded bronze akroteria consisted of life size Nike standing above a shield (decorated with a scene depicting Bellerophon on Pegasos fighting Chimaira) flanked by lesser Nikai on each side. Four additionnal Nikai were located at each corner. Therefore, there were a total of ten Nikai on the roof.

Pediments

The east pediment depicted a Gigantomachy.

The west pediment depicted a Amazonomachy.

Statue of Hekate Epipyrgidia

Just behind the southwest bastion, against the south wall of the southwest wing of the Propylaea, a rectangular area was devoted to the cult of Hekate Epipyrgidia (on the tower). This small cult area displayed a statue of Hekate made by Alkamenes around ??? BC.

Later Features

The outer face of the marble balustrade forming the parapet of the bastion, was decorated with a sculptured frieze consisting of some 50 figures. Each of the three sides of the balustrade contained a figure of Athena Nike on her throne surrounded by Nikai in various poses: assembling throphies, conducting cattle to the sacrifice... The frieze was sculptured a few years after our period of reference (421 BC), probably around 410 BC.

The paintings depicting the battles of Antigonos Gonatas against the Gauls date from the 3rd century BC.

References

Brouskari, Maria; The Monuments of the Acropolis, Athens: Archaeological Receipts Fund, 2001

Camp, John M.; The Archaeology of Athens, Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 90-92

Hill, Ida Thallon; The Ancient City of Athens – Its Topography and Monuments, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1953

Hurwit, Jeffrey M.; The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004

Llorente, Maria, Architecture grecque, Paris: Gründ, 2002

Martin, Jacques; Les voyages d'Alix - Athènes, Casterman, 2001

Travlos, John, Pictorial dictionary of Ancient Athens, Books that matter, New York, 1971, pp. 149, 482

To Do

  • Try to find where on the Southwest Bastion stood the bronze statue of Athena Nike dedicated in 425 BC to commemorate the Athenian victory over the Ambrakiotes.
  • Try to find where on the Southwest Bastion stood the bronze statue of Nike (distinct from the Athena Nike dedicated the same year) dedicated in 425 BC to commemorate the Athenian victory over the Spartans at Sphacteria.
  • Illustrate what the altar of Athena Nike looked like
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