Acropolis in Ottoman Times
After Athens was occupied by the Ottoman Empire in 1456 CE the Parthenon was converted to a mosque, and the Erechtheion functioned as a harem. During this period parts of the Propylaia were damaged “either struck by lightning or due to the explosion of a shell” (Dontas, The Acropolis and its Museum, 16).
After the Turks failed to take Vienna in 1683, Austria, Poland, the Pope, and Venice, allied with the goal of re-conquering all European lands that the Ottoman Empire occupied. The mercenary army that was assembled for the task (often referred to as the “Venetian” army) under the command of the Venetian Morosini freed Moreas (Peloponnese) and in 1687 landed in Athens. The occupying Turks fortified themselves on the Acropolis.
During the ensuing siege the Acropolis suffered from continuing bombardment that lasted for eight days, and on September 26, 1687 a Venetian mortar shell scored a direct hit on the Parthenon that the defending Turks were using as a storage magazine for their gunpowder. The explosion blew apart the long sides of the Parthenon, and the ensuing fire that lasted for two days left the building in the skeletal state we see today.
“The battery was commanded by Antonio Muitoni, Conte di San Felice, and the artificer’s name was Sergeant di Vanny.” (The Carrey Drawings of the Parthenon Sculptures, 30).
The force of the explosion led the Turks to surrender, and the Venetian general Morosini further damaged the building in his unsuccessful attempt to remove the sculptures of the west pediment. “Heard some curious extracts from the life of Morosini, the blundering Venetian, who blew up the Acropolis of Athens with a bomb, and be damned to him!” (Byron, A Self Portrait, in his Own Words, Peter Quennell, editor, Oxford Press, 1990, pg. 249).
Once the Turks were able to expel the Venetians a year later, the Acropolis was transformed into part of the city with many small homes scattered around its ground and a small mosque inside the ruined Parthenon.
The Pilfering of the Parthenon Marbles by Elgin
While Greece was under Ottoman occupation, the ambassador of England, Lord Elgin, used his influential position in order to achieve the government’s permission to remove whatever Greek antiquities he desired. In 1801, with the help of an Italian painter by the name of Lugeri, and for the next twenty years he removed an immense amount of the Greek cultural heritage from the Acropolis, and more specifically from the Parthenon.
“Of the 97 surviving blocks of the Parthenon frieze, 56 are in Britain and 40 in Athens.
Of the 64 surviving metopes, 48 are in Athens and 15 in the British Museum.
Of the 28 preserved figures of the pediments, 19 are in London and 9 in Athens.” (Greek Ministry of Culture)