The Parthenon is full of mysteries.
We know that it was built by the ancient Greeks in the city of Athens in the 5th century BCE. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit the Parthenon, and the rest of the Acropolis, and most of them will tell you that it is a fact that the Parthenon was a temple to Athens’ most important goddess — Athena. That just make sense — it was the most important building in ancient Athens, which is named after Athena. It is in the design of a typical ancient Greek temple, and there was once a gigantic statue of Athena in the building. However, the truth is not so simple.There are no records of any religious ceremony being carried out by the ancient Greeks at the Parthenon. According to Mary Beard, “There were no priests of priestesses attached to the Parthenon, no ancient religious festival is known to have taken place there, and it did not even have the most basic piece of Greek temple equipment: an altar directly outside its front entrance” (2002, p. 45). Many scholars believe that the ancient Greeks used the Parthenon as a treasury.
On the other hand, the Parthenon was used for religious purposes in the time of the Roman Empire, as well as during the times when Athens was under the Catholic Church and Muslim rule. In fact, there was once a mosque inside the Parthenon, but it was demolished in the 19th century. Today, what we see at the Parthenon is archaeologists’ best estimate of what it looked like during the time of the ancient Greeks.
- Do you think that the mosque, a later addition, but still an important historical building should have been taken down?
- There are pieces of the Parthenon at museums all over the world. Many of these, like the controversial Elgin marbles, were simply taken from the site without anyone’s permission
- Should everything be returned to Greece, or should other countries be allowed to “own” parts of the Parthenon?
- after thousands of years, wars, explorers, and one huge explosion, the Parthenon looked nothing like it had originally. Here’s an image of the Parthenon before lots of modern-day repairs and during/after
- much of what we see today is a modern reconstruction — should ancient buildings be repaired or should we rebuild and repair them to make them look like they originally did?
Parthenon under construction
For Greek mythology lovers: the Greeks believed that the Parthenon’s location is where the goddess Athena won the city of Athens in a competition with Poseidon. The story is that both offered a gift to the people of Athens — Athena offered an olive tree, while Poseidon offered the sea. The other gods of Mount Olympus decided in Athena’s favor and awarded the city to her. It is important to note that olives and olive oil were two of the most important products to the economy of ancient Greece. Without them, the people of Athens, and all of Greece, would have been much poorer.
Olive trees in the background
Lego Parthenon and Acropolis at the Acropolis Museum!