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Notes on the Geography of Greece: The Acropolis: Photo 16

world pictures Greece: The Acropolis

East end. The interior was altered with the conversion to the Byzantine church of Our Lady of Athens in the sixth century, when the apse behind the altar extended nearly to the outer columns. Among the losses at that time were the pediment sculptures, which Pausanias, who was here in the second century, says showed the birth of Venus--a topic hardly likely to please pious Christians. (Conversion of temples to churches could, on the other hand, help preserve them. A good example is the cathedral at Syracuse, whose walls still consist largely of the colonnades of a temple of Athena.) The Parthenon became a mosque in 1456, but it survived that, too, as shown by the 15th century sketches of Cyriac of Ancona, who drew the pediment sculptures largely intact. During a bombardment in 1687, however, the building was done in by a German officer hired by Venice. Under his direction, 700 cannonballs hit the building. One set off the gunpowder the Turks had stored inside. Barbarians? Not quite so much as you might think: an eyewitness wrote of the Swedish count in command of the attacking army: "How it dismayed His Excellency to destroy the beautiful temple that has existed three thousand years and is called the Temple of Minerva. In vain, however: the bombs did their work so effectively that never in this world can the temple be replaced." (Quoted by Beard, p. 80.) 300 people died in the explosion, which blew away the columns along the sides of the building, leaving the two ends seeming to be two separate buildings. (So it appears in the earliest photograph of the Parthenon, taken in 1839.) The Turks capitulated, but a year later they were back. In the wreckage of the demolished central hall they build a small mosque whose dome barely peeped over the surviving columns.

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