Built in the fifth century B.C. on the Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece, the Parthenon was a temple dedicated to the virgin goddess of wisdom, Athena Parthenos.
Even after being pretty thoroughly wrecked, the building still gives a clear picture of ancient Greek ideals of harmony and balance in architecture.
So what left the Parthenon in such bad shape? Several things. One of them is time, of course.
Natural degradation from 25 centuries of weather and unnatural degradation from a century of air pollution have both taken a toll.
However, the most devastating single thing occurred when the Turkish army got the bright idea that the Parthenon would make a great place to store its gunpowder as it battled the Venetians for control of the city in 1687.
A Venetian bombardment ignited the powder magazine, blowing the Parthenon’s roof off and destroying much of its center.
The Turks kept control of the city and added more injury to injury in 1806 by selling sculptures from the building’s frieze to a British aristocrat, Lord Elgin.
Lord Elgin claimed he was merely trying to save the sculptures from being pulverized for building materials, but immediately sold them to the British Museum, which, despite repeated pleas from Greece, holds them to this day.
Further damage occurred, ironically, during bungled restorations. In 1844, hundreds of loose blocks were randomly cemented into the walls.
In the British Museum, the Elgin sculptures were likewise marred by good intentions in 1938, when restoration there also went awry.
Finally, yet again more damage to the Parthenon took place during an earthquake in 1981.
At this writing, the Parthenon is going through another attempt to undo some of the damage of the past, including putting back some long-fallen pieces and putting right the misplaced blocks from 1844.