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This jewel of a temple is perched on the southwest corner (extreme right in this photo) of the Acropolis, and is dedicated to the "Winged Goddess of Victory," known as Nike. This is the goddess from which the sneaker company - oh, excuse me, running shoes, cross trainers, etc., etc., - received its inspirational name. Whether you knew it or not, 2400 years after the fact, you are still involved in Greek mythology.

Its tiny size belies its convoluted history. This Ionic temple was begun in 427 B.C.E., designed by Kallikrates. The building measures just 5.5 x 8.2 meters (18' x 27'); the columns are a diminutive 4 meters tall (13'-3"), with a diameter of about a half-meter; very much human-scaled.

The four columns front and back are topped by an architrave, which in turn has a horizontal band above, typical of the Ionic Order; this second horizontal contains story-telling sculpture, usually related to the building and the god or goddess to which it is dedicated. Known as a frieze, this particular design contains sculptures representing the history of Athens on three of the four sides; the last side represents an Assembly of the Greek Gods, commanded by a centrally placed figure of Zeus. Sculptures from the pediments are long gone. Apparently, there was a wooden statue of Nike inside. Ah, what the sneaker-maker wouldn't give for a copy!

Interestingly, the cult of Nike actually goes back to Mycenaean times, and earlier shrines, frequented by pilgrims, stood on this same spot. In 1687, the Turks, occupying the heights, tore the temple down, using the stones to beef up their defenses against the Venetian Governor of Heraklion, Francisco Morosini. Remember the Venetian fountain he built in the heart of Heraklion? (see SESSION TWO) It is a small world after all!

The Modern Greek State, achieving independence from Turkish rule, brought about a clearing of the Acropolis and a reconstruction of the temple in the 19th century; how this was accomplished is almost incomprehensible. German architects and archaeologists did the rebuilding. At some point in the 20th century, it was discovered that the foundations were giving way, and it was realized that some of the restoration was not correct. So the building was torn down once more, and rebuilt, with work finally completed shortly before the Second World War.

A lot of history for one little building, but it sings like a golden canary on its perch.

A "personification" of this goddess was discovered in the northern Aegean Island of Samothrace and is majestically exhibited in the Louvre: the very famous and popular “Winged Victory of Samothrace.”

© Architecture Past Present & Future - Edward D. Levinson, 2009

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