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By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Atop the sacred hill of the Acropolis, the Parthenon was built ~447-438 BC to house Athens' enormous treasury, and to display an ivory and gold colossus of Athena Parthenos in gratitude for Athens' victory over Persia at the Battle of Marathon. An earlier temple for this purpose had been erected, but in 480 BC the Persians had attacked the Acropolis and destroyed it whilst it was still incomplete. The Parthenon was built on the foundation of this earlier temple and even reused its salvaged remains.

The Parthenon was designed by architects Iktinos and Kallikrates and built by many highly skilled crafstmen. The building consists of two main chambers: a larger chamber facing east, meant to hold the statue; and a smaller chamber facing west, meant to contain the treasury. It was expensively made of fine white marble and richly decorated with ornate mouldings and many figured sculptures. The sculptor Pheidias allegedly made the statue of Athena.


Byzantine Church

600 BC

The Parthenon was converted into a Byzantine church in ~600 BC. The east end was rounded to form an apse, destroying the center of the east pediment. Most of the metopes' pagan images were severely defaced.

Catholic Cathedral

The Parthenon even served as a Catholic cathedral for a time.


AD 1456

The Ottoman Turks led to the AD 1458 capture of the Acropolis. The Parthenon was reused as a mosque.

Venetian Siege

AD 1687

The Acropolis was besieged by the Venetians in AD 1687. A mortar shell ignited the Parthenon's gunpowder stores, causing them to explode and then burn for five days. The Parthenon was heavily destroyed. The Venetians tried to remove the statues in the center of the west pediment but the sculptures fell to the ground.

The Ottomans built a small mosque within the Parthenon ruins.


Upon gaining independence, the Greeks dismantled the mosque and removed everything not pertinent to the Parthenon's Classical origins.

Parthenon sculptures

About half of the Parthenon's original sculptures remain: these are mostly divided equally between the British Museum and the New Acropolis Museum. The Parthenon sculptures at the British Museum were brought to England by Lord Elgin and bought for the Museum in 1816. Although controversial, these decisions spared the sculptures from further vandalism and weathering.



At the British Museum are most of the east and half of the west pediment sculptures.


Many of the metopes were defaced in the early Christian era or destroyed in the 1687 explosion. At the British Museum are 15 of the original 92 metopes.


2/3 of the original 160m long frieze survives. Of this, ~60% is at the British Museum and 40% is at the New Acropolis Museum.