Peek Inside the Parthenon in 3D

The changing fortunes of Greece's most famous structure

By Google Arts & Culture

Athens 2004 (2015-08-07) by MlennyThe Olympic Museum

Located at the heart of the Acropolis, one of the most famous and architecturally important sites in Greece, the Parthenon has been on the Hellenic tourist trail for over two millennia. Built as a sanctuary for Athena, patron goddess of Athens, the structure towers over the Greek capital, attracting millions of people every year. 

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During the mid-5th century BC, Athens was one of the world’s most important cultural centers. It was during this Golden Age that prominent politician and military general  Pericles set about building the temple complex that would dominate the city’s skyline, and identity, for ever more. 

The Parthenon itself was constructed between 447 BC and 432 BC. Built from marble, it was made by highly skilled stonemasons, many of whom traveled to the site from far and wide. Beautifully decorated with sculptures, columns, architraves, friezes and  pediments, the Parthenon is considered one of the finest examples of Greek architecture ever built. 

The Parthenon (1871) by Frederic Edwin ChurchThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Christian church

The Parthenon was used as a place of worship for around 1,000 years until the late 5th century AD when Roman emperor Theodosius II ordered all pagan temples to be closed. Around 100 years later, the building was converted into the Church of the Parthenos Maria. The conversion involved reorientating the main entrance to the building, removing sculptures and making a number of interior modifications. 

During its time as a Christian church, the Parthenon became the fourth most important Christian pilgrimage destination in the Eastern Roman Empire after Constantinople, Ephesus, and Thessaloniki. During the Latin occupation, it became the Church of Our Lady and vaulted tombs were built beneath the Parthenon’s floor. 

View of the Parthenon from the west (1853/1854) by Robertson JamesBenaki Museum of Greek Civilization

Islamic mosque

When Ottoman forces invaded Greece in the mid-15th century, the Parthenon was turned into a mosque. The bell tower that had been added when the building was a church was extended upwards to become a minaret and a minbar was installed.  Aside from these alterations, the Parthenon remained largely intact, with its Ancient Greek origins still clear to see. 

The bombardment of the Parthenon on 26 September 1687 (1600/1699) by Verneda Giacomo MilheauBenaki Museum of Greek Civilization

Ammunition store

Between 1684 and 1699, the Ottomans and Venetians fought the Morean War. In 1687, the Venetians sent an expedition to capture Athens. The Ottomans responded by fortifying the Acropolis. They used the Parthenon as an ammunition store,  packing the building with gunpowder. 

When a Venetian mortar round hit the Acropolis, the gunpowder exploded, causing a huge amount of damage to the Parthenon and turning it from a working building into a ruin. 

By Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Disputed marbles

In the early 19th century, British Aristocrat Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, removed some of the Parthenon’s most important surviving sculptures. The pieces were eventually sold to the British Museum where they remain to this day. The Earl of Elgin claimed to have permission from the Sultan, however, this is still disputed and the Greek government has been fighting for years to have the sculptures returned. 

The Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis in the background (1865) by Constantinou DimitriosBenaki Museum of Greek Civilization

UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 1987, the Acropolis was made a UNESCO World Heritage site. Over the past few decades, extensive restoration and conservation works have been carried out at the site, securing it for future generations.  Today, it’s one of Greece’s most famous landmarks, attracting over 7 million visitors every year. 

Acropolis of Pergamon (1882) by Thiersch, Friedrich vonPergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Learn more about the Parthenon here.

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