The cult of Athena Nike was a very ancient one on the holy rock. South of the Propylaea there had been an Archaic altar. This was replaced by a small temple of porous stone, at the time of the Persian wars. The decision to build the new temple was taken quite early, in 448 B.C., but work actually began in 437 - so inscriptions inform us - and the temple was completed in 424 B.C. (or, according to the view of earlier scholars, at some time after 421 B.C.). The sheer side of the buttress was protected by putting a marble parapet (thorakion) with relief carvings of Nikai, probably in the decade 410-400 B.C.

Pausanias tells us that the god to whom the temple was dedicated was "Wingless Victory" (Nike Apteros). The reference is to a cult statue of Athena Nike which showed her with her wings clipped, meaning that she would never be able to desert Athens. The temple was designed by Callicrates and typologically it was a building of the Ionic order with four columns on either front. The pronaos - which was in antis - was integrated with the cella. So there is an impression of greater depth to the building, despite the restrictions of space imposed by the tight site. This temple and the one on the Ilissos are perhaps the earliest examples in Attica of the fully developed Ionian order.

The harmoniousness of its architectural members and the grace of its columns combine with the delicate carvings and the firmness of its masonry to make Athena Nike one of the gems of Classical architecture.

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