The Parthenon on the Acropolis was once one of Greece’s greatest treasures. It was built thousands of years ago as a temple to the goddess Athena. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to remain pristine condition forever. The Parthenon was used for another purpose, which lead to it being damaged.
The Ottoman Empire’s Rule
The Ottoman Empire ruled Greece for hundreds of years. Under the Ottoman rule, the Parthenon was converted into a garrison. Later, it became a mosque, and soon, things got worse for this fantastic piece of history.
In 1687, the Ottoman Empire was in the middle of a fierce battle with Venice. They were trying to defend themselves against the invading army from Venice, so they decided to use the Parthenon to store their gunpowder. Obviously, this wasn’t the best decision, and it led to lasting destruction to the structure. A mortar and exploding gun power destroyed the entire roof of the Parthenon. This resulted in only the columns remaining. When the army came ashore, Admiral Francesco Morosini tried to raid the Parthenon of its most valuable treasures. In doing so, he ended up destroying most of them. He even smashed a massive statute of Poseidon into tiny pieces. It was a huge loss for Greece.
The 18th Century
By the 18th century, the Parthenon was in such disrepair that visitors felt no shame in stealing pieces when they could. This resulted in a lucrative black market business for collectors. Eventually, on aristocrat changed everything. His name was Thomas Bruce, and he was the Earl of Elgin. He wanted a career in politics, and when he was called upon to act as the ambassador to Selim III, the Ottoman sultan embarked on an adventure that would change history.
Heading To Greece
Thomas was going to Greece to meet with the sultan. Before he left, the architect who was designing a house for him told him that he loved Greek architecture. He asked Thomas to bring back as many drawings of the Parthenon as possible. Thomas agreed, but he didn’t realize how difficult it would be. When he approached the Ottomans to view the Parthenon for himself, he was denied access. He was told that he needed special permission called a firman, and he would need to get it from the sultan himself. Thomas decided that getting to the Parthenon was necessary, so he went to the sultan to gain access.
When the firman arrived, there was a message written on it that no one could agree on what it meant. It said, “When they wish to take away some pieces of stone with old inscriptions and figures, no opposition be made.” Thomas believed that this meant that he was allowed to remove anything that he wanted, and when he did, the Ottomans didn’t try to stop him. Thomas gathered a group of men, and for the next two years, they filled boxes of artifacts from the Parthenon. He ended up packing up a total of 200 boxes and had them shipped back to Britain. This caused problems in the future. Famous structure is actually home to a centuries-old controversy that still has people divided.
Displaying the Relics
When Thomas returned to London, he wanted to display the relics in public so that the residents could appreciate them. It wasn’t long before the public was flocking to see what Thomas brought back from Greece. While this was a great idea, he had other ideas that weren’t. He planned a costly renovation of the relics that he brought back. In the process of renovating the artifacts, he ended up doing more damage. Many people believe that he treated the objects insensitively, and the pieces were painted, making them unrecognizable. The pieces were cleaned to the point that the marble was altered entirely.
The relics remained on display until 1938, when the artifacts were moved to storage to keep them from being damaged during World War II. They didn’t reappear to the public for decades. When they were brought back out to the public, people all over the world were divided on who the Parthenon’s collection actually belonged to. Everyone took a side.
The Greeks believed that the pieces should be returned to their rightful home in Athens. Over the years, the Greek government has petitioned Britain many times to have the artifacts returned. Britain is refusing to give up the relics. They believe that the relics represent European culture and not just Greek culture. Because it is one of the most popular exhibits at the British Museum, they don’t want to give up the pieces.
The people defending Britain believe that Thomas saved the artifacts from being looted by collectors completely. The Greeks believe that since the objects were originally in the Parthenon, they should be returned. Only time will tell who will win in the end.