Each temple on the Acropolis is dedicated to one of the ancient gods, but the goddess Athena (from whom the city of Athens gets its name) is most prominent. Widely known as the goddess of war, the name Temple of Athena Nike is appropriate, as the word "nike" means victory, and this goddess was also revered as the protector of the city. This was the first of the Ionic structures built on the famous Acropolis that towers over and dominates the ancient city from every angle.
Construction on the Temple of Athena at the Acropolis was begun around 427 BC during the tumultuous times of the Peloponnesian War that lasted for almost 30 years, with battles fought as far away as Sicily in Italy. While quite small by monument standards, the Temple of Athena Nike was placed in the most prominent position on the Acropolis, set on a rock outcropping at the southwest (most visible) corner of the plateau where it was visible by all from the city below. It is only 27 feet long, 18.5 feet wide, and 23 feet tall. It is the first Acropolis temple to greet visitors, both modern and ancient, when they pass into the sanctuary.
This graceful temple on the Acropolis remained intact and undamaged until invaders from Turkey demolished it in 1686. Meanwhile, aggressors from Venice were attacking the Turks, who used the temple stones to build fortifications. From 1834 to 1838, it was virtually completely reassembled.
Before it was restored, the almost square structure was supported by four Ionic columns that supported carved friezes on two porticoes. The Temple of Athena Nike appropriately contained a statue of the goddess in her traditional warrior garb, with helmet, spear, Zeus' lightning bolts, and shield. You may find statues of Athena depicted in a less warlike manner in other ancient temple ruins and museums like the National Archeological Museum, because she was also known as the goddess of wisdom and truth. Her helmet, however, was almost always present.
Historic and archeological records show that the original statue in the Temple of Athena at the Acropolis was made of wood. She held a pomegranate (an ancient symbol for good luck, righteousness, and bounty) in one hand and her helmet in the other. It was often customary to depict Athena Nike with wings, so the wingless statue in this particular temple on the Acropolis caused it to be known as the "Wingless Victory." Athena Nike can also be found in the famous Louvre Museum in Paris, France. This instantly recognizable statue is known as "Winged Victory," and is minus her head and arms, with magnificent wings spread out behind her elegantly draped torso.
Today, the Temple of Athena at the Acropolis remains largely intact. It is missing its roof and most of its pediment (the triangular section supported by the columns). The elaborate carved frieze that once adorned the sides of the temple are now in the Acropolis Museum, which contains many of the more valuable and vulnerable treasures recovered from the temples, including the Parthenon and the Erechtheion Temple.
The Acropolis, with its highly visible Temple of Athena Nike is one of Athens' most famous and popular attractions. Most visitors who spend any time in the city will visit the ancient structures on the plateau. It pays to do a little searching for one of the Athens hotels (usually in Syntagma Square) that will give you a nighttime view of the great monument. If you can find one with a balcony or rooftop verandah, you will be rewarded with the breathtaking sight of the marble temples illuminated against the night sky.