1. Below you will learn the story of the Parthenon from its original days until today in the year 2000. Enjoy this interesting account!

Why do this? To learn about the past and to bridge that past over to a present-day problem.


After their victory against the Persians in 479BC the Athenians returned to their abandoned city and found all the buildings on the Acropolis had been demolished.

Pericles, Athens' ruler at that time, wanted to rebuild the city and make it an artistic and cultural as well as political hellenic centre. During the thirty years of Pericles' rule, many buildings were erected like the Parthenon. The general artistic supervision of the Acropolis buildings was assigned to Pheidias, an eminent artist at that time.

In 439BC the Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena and it took 15 years to complete. This is a remarkably short time when one considers the principles of architecture employed, some of which are still unknown to us.

In 450AD the Parthenon was turned into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but in 1204, when the Franks occupied Athens they turned the Parthenon into a Catholic church and when the Turks arrived in 1458 the Parthenon became a mosque with Turkish houses built around it. Some drawings of the Parthenon made by Jacques Carrey in 1674 show that at that time the Parthenon still remained intact.

Thirteen years later, in 1687, the Venetian general Francesco Morosini laid siege to the Acropolis. He bombarded the Acropolis, even though he knew that the Turks were storing gunpowder there. The result was an explosion which destroyed much of the Parthenon.

The Scottish Earl of Elgin, a passionate amateur collector of antiquities, had proposed himself for the post of British ambassador to Turkey's Ottoman Empire because of his health. He had syphilis and the doctors recommended him a warm climate.

Europe was in the grip of the Romantic revival, and he was obsessively keen to record and, if possible, obtain as many of the ancient Greek treasures now in the uncaring care of Turkey. His purpose, he wrote, was to improve the modern art of Great Britain by permitting its artists to see firsthand the greatest examples of sculpture ever made.

The Turkish rulers of Constantinople were pleased to accept bribes, gifts, money and munitions from England and France. In return, they gave permission to record, then sketch, then in 1801 dismantle, and finally, transport the Greek monuments and sculptures.

Elgin put together a team of painters, architects and moulders. The looting of the Parthenon began immediately. The Greeks weren't indifferent. Many complained about the ruination to the Sultan because he had given permission to Elgin to make his plans. Nevertheless all attempts were in vain. The sculptures were lowered from the temple and transported by British sailors on a gun carriage.

"The marble caused us a lot of difficulties and I had slightly to become a barbarian."

General Lusieri to Elgin Edward Clarke in 1811 wrote one of the most famous descriptions of the actual operations on the Acropolis by Lord Elgin's workteam under the supervision of Venetian general Lusieri. According to Clarke, who witnessed the removal of the metopes, it was a fantastic and marvellous sculpture. But tragedy struck when a part of the Pentelic marble collapsed under the pressure of Elgin's machines and Clarke states that even the Turkish commander cried as the marble was smashed to pieces. Clarke also makes the point that Elgin's workteam also cut the marble into smaller pieces for easier transport.

"Lord Elgin may now boast of having ruined Athens."
Anonymous Greek, 1810.




On December 26 1801, Elgin ordered the immediate shipment of the sculptures on the ship "Mentor". During 1806, one of the Caryatids was removed, as well as a corner of the Erechtheum, part of the frieze of the Parthenon, many inscriptions and hundreds of vases.

Others joined in the looting and this incredible activity, which was not confined to the Acropolis but was carried out throughout Athens and large parts of Greece, continued for many years. In 1810 Elgin loaded the last of his booty on the warship "Hydra". In 1817 two more warships were loaded with gravestones, copperware and hundreds of vases. Four years later, the Greek War of Independence finally brought Elgin's looting to an end.

"Quod non fecerunt Gothi, hoc fecerunt Scoti" "What the Goths did not do, the Scots did here" Graffiti , Athens 1813. (This graffiti is said to have been written by Lord Byron)

"He (Elgin) looted what Turks and other barbarians considered sacred." J. Newport MP

The treasures' subsequent adventures included sinking in shipwrecks, heavy-handed salvaging, being possessed by and rescued from Napoleon's fleet, and then lying, dispersed and neglected -- for many years awaiting transportation to London.

It was January 1804 when the first 65 cases arrived in London, where they remained for two years because Elgin had been imprisoned in France. The maltreatment which the Marbles suffered was unavoidable. They were placed in the dirty and damp shed and grounds of Elgin's Park Lane house and remained there for years, decaying in London's damp climate, while he tried to find a buyer.

Elgin made attempts to sell the Marbles to the British government but the price he asked was so high that they refused to buy them. As the years passed, so the Marbles influenced the lives of people in Britain. Churches, buildings and houses were built in Greek classical style.

After defeating the French at Waterloo, victorious England was able to consider buying the Parthenon Marbles from Lord Elgin in 1816. Elgin claimed that he personally had spent 62,440 pounds on bribes, workmen, transportation and storage -- roughly $10 million at today's prices -- but the best offer a government committee could come up with was 35,000 pounds. Reluctantly, he took it, and returned to Scotland to father eight children with a new countess, adding to the four already born to the first Lady Elgin.

Finally, the Marbles were transferred from Burlington House to the British Museum, where a special gallery was eventually built for them.



Elgin's second attempt to sell the Marbles to the British government led to a debate in Parliament where Sir John Newport MP said about Lord Elgin:

"The Honourable Lord has taken advantage of the most unjustifiable means (i.e. bribery) and has committed the most flagrant pillages. Hiconduct has been censured."



Among the first people to criticise Lord Elgin was H. Hammersley MP. He advocated that if any future Greek government demanded the Marbles back, England should return them without any further procedure or negotiation.

Some views on the return of the Marbles:

In 1890 an editorial by Franklin Harrison, which appeared in the magazine "19th Century", entitled "Return the Elgin Marbles!" maintained that the sculptures were more dear to the Greeks than to the British.

Philip Sassoon MP, and Private Secretary to the Prime Minister at the time, wrote in the Times in 1928 that the splendid ruins of the Parthenon and the bright air of Athens would be a more suitable place for the most harmonious sculptures in the world, than the British Museum.

In December 1940 a Labour MP, Mrs Keir, asked the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill whether the Marbles would be returned to Greece in partial recognition of that country's valiant resistance to the Germans during World War II and the sacrifices of its people. The answer was negative. At the time , there was a large number of letters published in the Times favouring the return of the Marbles to Greece.

"For Turkey, the point of departure is that pieces should be returned to their country of origin," said Ahmed Ulker, a Turkish diplomat at Unesco, the United Nations cultural body that promotes restitution of unique art treasures. "Of course, we don't want to empty Western museums. But, as a matter of principle, art works exported illegally should be returned." ....

Britain had always claimed that they were much more prepared to preserve those treasures than the Greek but…

… how much of this safekeeping and preservation is true and plausible?
The Greek government has lately been spreading a lot of rumours over the museum's bad handling of the marbles and, partially, The British Museum has lost its charm for many of the 6 million tourists who visit the place.*





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