At the height of its power, the Athenian Empire constructed the Parthenon to replace an older temple destroyed during the Persian invasion of 480 BCE. Built atop the Athenian Acropolis, it was dedicated to the city’s patron goddess Athena. Completed in 438 BCE, the building is considered one of the most important surviving examples of Classical Greece, and culmination of the Doric order and the namesake columns that line the temple.
However like most Greek temples of the time, the Parthenon found itself in use as the treasury, and even as a Christian cathedral under Roman rule. But with the decline of the Athenian Empire, each new owner would leave lasting changes upon the building. The Ottoman conquest saw the building’s conversion to a mosque, and the addition of a minaret, before being severely damaged when one of their ammunition dumps housed within the temple was ignited by a Venetian bombardment in 1687 CE.
Of the decorative sculptures that once graced the Parthenon – only a handful of which are still on display in the museum below on the southern slope – the Ottomans let Thomas Bruce, Seventh Earl of Elgin, in 1806 remove and ship back to Britain, where they were a decade later sold to the British Museum, and are now on display collectively known as the Elgin Marbles.
Considered to be from among one of the highest points in Greek art, as well as an enduring symbol of Athenian democracy, the Greek government since 1983 has been committed to the return of the works.
As part of a selective restoration and reconstruction program started back in 1975, the Greek Ministry of Culture has also been doing an impressive job stabilizing the partially ruined temple, while still allowing hundreds of visits a day.