Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries & Historical Sites

The Parthenon Marbles

Demeter and Persephone - Pediment Sculptures of the Parthenon - British Museum - Joy of Museums 2

The Parthenon Marbles

The Parthenon was built on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece between 447 and 432 B.C. as a testament to the glory and pride of the Athenian state. The Parthenon stands on the Acropolis of Athens which in ancient times, as it does today, dominates the city of Athens. The Acropolis is an extremely rocky outcrop above the city of Athens. The word acropolis comes from the Greek, Akron meaning “highest point” and polis meaning “city”. The Acropolis is a flat-topped rock that rises high over Athens, with a large flat area which has been used as a fortress and a religious centre from time immemorial.

In ancient times, the Acropolis was used as a fortress and a religious centre dedicated to the cult of the city’s patron goddess, Athena. During the 5th century B.C. peace had been made with Persia and Athens had reached the high point in her wealth and power. Athens was the leader of the majority of the Greek city-states, who paid tribute to Athens for protection from Persia. Under the democratically elected leadership of Pericles, Athens decided to use its wealth to build a great new temple to Athena.

The Temple of Athena was erected using Doric style columns from white marble quarried from Mount Pentelikon which is about sixteen kilometres from the Acropolis. The building was architected in perfect proportions and decorated with a plethora of sculptures.

The temple survived Roman occupation, and in the 5th Century AD, it was converted into a Christian Church. The worst damage occurred in 1687 when a Turkish gunpowder magazine located within the Temple exploded after a direct hit by the Venetian besieging army.

Parthenon Marbles are also known as The Elgin Marbles, which refers to the controversial history of how and why the Parthenon Marbles from Athens ended up in the British Museum. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine (1766 – 1841) was a Scottish nobleman and diplomat, known primarily for the removal and shipment to England of the marble sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens. When the marbles arrived in England, they were an instant success among many who admired the sculptures. However, both the sculptures and Elgin also received criticism from detractors.

The Greek government claim that Elgin stole the marbles and are demanding their return to Greece. They have built a museum at the base of the Acropolis to house the Marbles from the Parthenon.

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“Captive Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought the arts to rustic Latium”
– Horace

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Photo Credits: 1) JOM