Temple of Athena Nike

Dedicated to the goddess Athena, NOT for being the deity of wisdom but for her facet of a fighter. The temple of Athena Nike is the most significant symbol of the Greek victory against the Persians, a feat that has made the Greeks proud for centuries…

Hello, traveler! I am a tour guide in Athens and welcome to this special blog. Are you interested in the the Temple of Athena Nike ? Here you will find EVERYTHING you need to know about it. 

(Image of the Temple of Athena Nike outside the fortification of the Acropolis of Athens)

Note: This article is part of the virtual tour of the Acropolis of Athens that we offer free of charge on our website. If you do not know what this is about and want to find out EVERYTHING about this sacred enclosure (including the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, the theater of Dionysus, etc.), then you should visit the homepage.

The temple of Athena Nike is as IMPORTANT as it is unknown. This is added to the fact that it is a bit hidden, even if, unfortunately, it often goes unnoticed by tourists. You will find out later where exactly it is located, so you don’t miss it, but first:

In order to find out the greatness of the temple of Athena Nike, we must remember a significant event in the course of Greek history.

History

If we want to discover the importance of this sacred temple, we must look back in the history of Greece: 

 Does the battle of Salamis ring a bell? Have you seen the movie 300? Let’s see: 

In the 5th century BC, the Persian king Xerxes I decided to invade Greece with an army never seen before by the Greeks. His goal was to avenge or remedy the humiliating defeat that his father (Darius I) had suffered in a similar attempt ten years before (specifically in the battle of Marathon). This war that was about to begin would be called the second medical war.

The truth is that on this occasion, the Greeks had a much worse time than in the first medical war. | SPOILER ALERT |This is where we place the defeat of the 300 Spartans in the strait of Thermopylae. Note that they endured like champions for a few days, and in the end, they sacrificed their lives to save the rest of their comrades.

However, the worst moment for the Athenians was when the Persians, not content with conquering the great city-state of Athens, also decided to burn their beloved Acropolis. 

At this point, EVERYTHING seemed lost for the Hellenes, but as we already know, Greek “stubbornness” is legendary… So, the ancient Greeks had the last laugh because of the battle of Salamis.

Of course – otherwise, you would not be reading about this story right now – the Greeks won this naval battle. However, it was much more than a simple victory: 

This was where the Greeks, commanded by the Athenian politician and general Themistocles (the protagonist of the second 300 movie), turned the tables. Had they lost this battle, ancient Greece would have come to an end at that moment, and, undoubtedly, the world would have missed out on all the advances (philosophy, democracy, science, art…) that we inherited from the Greeks.

The temple of Athena Nike is built to commemorate the victory of the battle of Salamis. In fact, the word “Niké” means “Victory.” Moreover, this temple stands on the right tower of the Propylaea, as if it was protecting the entrance to the sacred rock. But there are still many things to find out about the temple of Athena Victorious.

The owl that won the war

According to legend, that morning, before the battle of Salamis, the Greeks saw an owl flying over the strait

Why is this so important?

You see: The owl, although technically it would be the owlet, is the main symbol of Athena. Athena is also the goddess of military strategy besides being the protector of the city of Athens. Of course, the Greeks interpreted this to mean that their beloved goddess was with them and would accompany them during the battle, i.e., they could not lose her!

But wait: we are talking a lot about Athena, but what about the goddess Nike?

Goddess Athena or Nike: Who is it?

Let’s solve this mystery once and for all:

Who is the goddess Nike? Is she the same as Athena?

Nike is the goddess and personification of the concept of “Victory.” She is commonly represented as a winged woman holding a crown of laurel. In antiquity, we could find her, like a miniature, on the hand of the great statue of Zeus (located in Olympia) and also in that of Athena in the Parthenon.

But if she is an independent goddess, why does she appear next to the name Athena?

Let’s say that Athena is a very versatile goddess – Indeed, this goddess is ingenious – and as such, she was known by several names: Athena Parthenos, Athena Promacos, Athena Polias, Pallas Athena… Also, as Athena the Victorious, you will soon understand why:

Following the battle of Salamis, the ancient Greeks believed that they won the battle thanks to their goddess. So, for this reason, they decided to give her the name Nike, too. Not content with just that, they also sculpted a statue of her inside the temple of Athena Nike. However, this statue was somewhat peculiar:

The Victory who lost her wings

Earlier, you found out that the goddess Nike was always represented with wings, except for this case. Why?

Do you remember the story of the owl flying over the Salamis Strait? For Greeks that day, the victory came flying. However, they did not want it ever to leave Athens. So, legend has it that they deliberately removed its wings so that it would have to stay with them, in other words, a bittersweet-romantic touch.

As the famous Basque singer-songwriter, Mikel Laboa would say quite a few centuries later in the song “Txoria txori”: “Hegoak ebaki banizkio nirea izango zen”, that is, “if I had clipped his wings, (now) he would be mine.”

But speaking of wings: do you know where the logo of the most influential sports brand in the world comes from?  

Secret: Nike’s logo is the wing of the goddess Nike. It came to an American graphic design student who, apparently, was very philhellenic.

Congratulations, traveler, on reading this far! You’re definitely getting ready to make the most of your visit to the Acropolis of Athens. You can now skip to the next monument and continue with our virtual tour. Otherwise, you can also continue reading the “frequently asked questions about the Temple of Athena Nike” (after this paragraph) or return to the main page.

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