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August 11, 2008

The Arabic Parthenon

Like many ancient monuments of the Greek and Roman civilisations, there are a lot of misconceptions about the Acropolis in Athens. Not least of which is that I'm fairly certain that a vast majority of Britons would identify the Parthenon as being a building called 'The Acropolis'.


We see these gleaming white marble buildings today, and imagine our European forefathers standing around them looking just like that, only a little less run-down. There is also a tendency to think that the buildings were used by 'the ancients', and then fell into ruins, and were re-discovered as a postcard tourist attraction sometime in the 1950s. In fact they were in constant use for much of the last millennium, and it is only in relatively recent years that they have been isolated as a 'monument'.

The Parthenon was used as a church (both Orthodox and later Roman Catholic) and a place of Christian pilgrimage during Byzantine times. It then became a mosque under Ottoman rule, and had a minaret added to it. It was also used as an ammunition store, which was how it came to be blown up in 1687.

Of course, using the Parthenon as a Church is just seen as part of the rich Christian heritage that the Greek-speaking people clung onto even under Muslim occupation. Using the buildings as a mosque, however, was a bad thing that was so beyond the pale that nobody seems to mention it much these days.

I suspect it is for that reason that the pieces of marble you see lying around the Acropolis complex with Arabic inscriptions on them will never find themselves part of a restoration project...


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