“The Parthenon was a victim of pillage and this crime can be rectified” said, in the midst of cheering during the opening of the New Museum of the Acropolis, the Minister of Culture, Antonis Samaras, and –referring to the marbles of the Acropolis which are in the possession of the British Museum– added: “The ones that are not here today, the ones that were removed and taken away from us 207 years ago will return”. The statements of the President, the Prime Minister, the President of the Parliament and the media ran along the same lines. In fact, the whole celebration of the opening was directed in such a way as to proclaim the request to return the marbles from the U.K. to Greece.
Such actions are indicative of the confusion that the Greek people experience; they are unable to realize who has damaged the Parthenon the most and that in case they truly want the marbles to return to the Acropolis they don’t need to ask London. They should start their inquiries at the christian churches which are situated on archeological sites by and round Acropolis and Plaka, where they can find tons of marbles removed from the Parthenon: these marbles have been used in the churches’ construction.
A painting of Acropolis by Lord Broughton from the book: ‘Travelling to Albania and other areas of Turkey in 1809 and 1810’, where we can see whatever is left of the inelegant church of (Virgin Mary of Athens - Panagia Atheniotissa) inside the Parthenon, which was removed relatively recently.
The ancient city of Athens was developed around the Acropolis, mainly in the area that stretches north of the hill. The city retained its glamour until the Roman centuries at which time it blossomed for the last time. During the 2nd century AD, not only had Athens regained its prior glory, but it was also led to a new era of prime due to the interventions of Herodes Atticus and Andrianos, while, in the 4th century, it was reestablished as an important educational centre and young studious people from the whole empire were flocking so as to listen to the teachings of renowned philosophers.
In the central southern site of the Ancient Agora, where the Odeion of Agrippa was situated, the Gymnasium was constructed: a university complex which consisted of classrooms, a library, a palaestra (arena) and baths. Several other private educational centres were constructed further south, by the Areios Pagos (Court of Appeal), as well as one more Gymnasium at the south of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Moreover, the Library of Andrianos, the stage of the theatre of Dionysus, the Dome and the Metroοn (Register). During all this period the Greek character prevailed and the traditions of the classic era survived.
After christian emperor Theodosius’ decrees, the destruction and demolition of Greek sculptures, works of art and temples began, which lasted many centuries. Where ancient temples stood christian ones sprang, while at the same time new christian churches were built in other areas using, as a rule, ancient materials. Athens, from being the symbol of the classic era, became just another city of the Byzantine Empire.
The Parthenon - Virgin Mary of Athens (Panagia Athiniotissa), during the 12th century AD [Painting by Manolis Korres (Byzantine and Christian Museum)].
The Acropolis – which was renamed as the Castle – was transformed into an array of christian churches: the Parthenon (as the church of the Holy Wisdom of God at first and then of Virgin Mary of Athens (Panagia Atheniotissa) and the Erechtheion (as the church of Savior Christ). Between them two, the church of the Holy Trinity was built, while the Propylaia were turned into the church of the Archangels. The Parthenon, during its conversion into a christian church, sustained the greatest damage in its history. This damage was even greater than that by Morosini which is used as an alibi by the orthodox propaganda in its attempt to conceal the previous extensive christian damage.
The ancient temple constituted mainly the church of the christian basilica, while its western part constituted the narthex. The eastern gate became the sanctum. In order for it to become a christian church, side entrances were built, a stairway in the south eastern corner of the alcove was constructed, an apse in the eastern side, while the sculptural decoration of the metopes of the two sides and of the north side sustained extensive damage due to the cutting out and removal of these parts. There was a similar damage to the largest statues of the western pediment, which were removed. Windows were constructed in the frieze – this damaged several of its sculptures.
In the 6th century AD, christian emperor, Justinian, ordered the removal of the best marbles of the Parthenon as well as the ones of the most important ancient temples, such as Delphi, Militos, Ephessus and others, and their transport to Istanbul for the construction of Hagia Sophia (St. Sophia). The return of these specific marbles has not been requested so far by any Greek person. In the 12th century, the residence of the orthodox episcopes was added to Acropolis.
The caves of the Acropolis were transformed into places of christian worship; this also happened to the cave of Pan (St. Athanasius), Clepsydra (St. Apostles at marbles) and the cave at the Thrasyllus monument (Virgin Mary of the cave - Panagia Speliotissa). The basilica of the Dionysian theatre and the basilica on the site of the Asclepium were founded in honor of St. Anargyri while the ancient spring was transformed into holy water. The basilica of St. Andrew was constructed next to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
In the central area of Athens, which was surrounded by the post-roman wall, the so-called Agoranomeion was also changed into a basilica and the Orologion of Kurristos into a Baptistery. The church of the Great Virgin Mary (Megali Panagia) was built inside the library of Andrianos and this became the cathedral of Athens, which was conversed into a smaller basilica in the beginning of the 6th century. On the hill of Agoraios Kolonos, the temple of Hephaestus was changed into St. George the shoat (!) (Akamatis) and remained as such until the middle of the 17th century. Below the Areios Pagos, the church of St. Dionisius Areopagitis was founded, while on the hill of the Nymphs the most ancient Sanctum of Zeus in Attica was demolished and in its place the church of St. Marina was built.
St. Demetrius Loubardiaris on the Hill of the Muses (Filopappou, across the Acropolis).
On the east side of the Acropolis five churches were built: on the site of the posterior church of St. Catherine, on the site of the temple of Soteira of Lykodemus, the basilica of the National Park, the basilica on the northern side of Olympium (dedicated to St. Nicolas) and the temple which was on the southern side of Olympium. In Ilissos river area, the ionic order temple of Agrotera Artemis was changed into a basilica and the temples of Demetra and Kori which were near the southern bank were changed into a church of Virgin Mary with the name Virgin Mary at stone (Panagia Petra) where a cemetery was built. Cemeteries were created around the Acropolis as well, on the site of the church of St. Andrew and the basilica of the theatre of Dionysus.
In the middle of the 8th century, Athens was promoted ecclesiastically from episcopacy to cathedral, so from then on until the 12th century there was new activity in the industry of church-building. New churches were built following the same ideas and technique, such as St. Johannes Prodromus of Magouti in the northern foothill of the Acropolis, St. Apostles of Solaki in the Ancient Agora, St. Asomati (Bodiless) of Kerameikos, St. Theodori, Kapnikarea, St. Catherine in Plaka and others, such as Virgin Mary the Gorgoepikoos (known as ‘Minor Cathedral’ or St. Eleftherius). Many monasteries were also built in the outskirts of the city on sites of demolished Greek temples, such as the one of Kaisariani (on the site of the temples of Demetra and Eileithiia), Daphni (on the site of Daphnaios Apollo) and others. On the top of Lycabettus Hill the temple of Aghesmius Zeus was demolished and the church of Prophet Elias was built in its place, which was later renamed to St. George Lycabettus.
Church of Savior Transfiguration (Metamorphosis Sotiros), right below the Acropolis. All the area below and around the Acropolis abounds in christian churches built with ancient materials.
Despite the implementation of the new urban planning of the city in the 19th century, the Bavarians and the Greeks respected the foreign byzantine buildings and instead of removing them they preferred to save them by altering the urban planning. The case of the church of Virgin Mary (Eisodia Theotokou -Kapnikarea) was typical; it remained where it was and as a consequence the street was split in the middle – Hermou street – and it still remains as such. (In modern Greece a tourist guide once explained to tourists that the church of Kapnikarea is very well built with the use of excellent materials that were brought for it, even materials from the Acropolis itself!)
Only in very few extreme cases and after intense pressure by archaeologists were some christian churches removed so that archaeological excavations could take place and uncover ancient buildings.
Church of Savior Transfiguration (MetamorphosisSotiros - Kottaki) in Plaka. One out of many Christian churches around the Acropolis that has been built with ancient marbles.
Trade of antiquities
by Ottomans – Orthodox Church – Greek State
When the modern Greeks point the finger at the British for having illegally removed the sculptures of the Parthenon, the British argue that everything that Elgin had done was approved and allowed by the local authorities (the Ottomans) of the area and that, in fact, they had approved the removal and transportation of parts of the frieze by issuing special decrees – firmans (written Sultan orders). However, the Greeks, who claim that “firmans are illegal because the actions of the conquerors cannot have any legal validity today”, not only tolerate the fact that the Church possesses its vast property today thanks to firmans issued by the Ottoman authorities then, but they also accept firmans and edicts of Sultans in notary documents of modern Greece.
Also, the Consultative Board for Public Property and Exchangeable Property has recognized that the right of ownership of the Church continued and remained valid during the Ottoman period because:
a) The property of the monastery is declared as respected according to the muslin Law and in the case of its conquest by the Muslin State there can be no consequences or claims upon it.
b) The monasteries of Mount Athos did not resist, but the capitulated to the Sultans before the conquest and as a result their property was recognized by the Sultans. Mount Athos received firmans from Sultans Mehmed A (1413-1421), Bayezid A (1389 – 1402) and Mourad B who sent the firman of the 9th April 1430 (the original has been saved) which validated the privileges and the property that the Byzantine Emperors had given to Mount Athos.
c) The ‘inalienable’ of the church property was recognized and ensured by Mehmed the Conqueror in his edict in 1453.
In the above photograph we can see page 7 of the contract 2816 (May, 9, 2007, vol. 205/6), according to which the rights of ownership of thousands acres are recognized for a monastery, following firmans issued by Sultans Mehmed A (1413-1421), Bayezid A (1389 – 1402) and Mourad B who sent the firman of the 9th April 1430 (the original has been saved) which validated the privileges and the property of monasteries in Mount Athos and the edict issued by Mehmed the Conqueror (1453).
The actions of plundering the Greek cultural wealth (and not just the Parthenon marbles) were carried out under the tolerance / indifference of the Turks and the silent approval / complicity of the Greek Orthodox Church. In fact, the Church often played and active part in the looting circle – for example, the patriarch and episcope of Andros was one of the informants and suppliers of the British ambassador in Istanbul, Thomas Roe (1621 – 1628).
The monasteries of Mount Athos excelled at the trade of antiquities: in a document of 1694 they admit that they had sold ‘old books’ to the king of Russia because, as they claimed, they famished - something they have always claimed. Moreover, in 1801 the abbot of Patmos monastery, after being bribed by the British, gave away ancient manuscripts, among which there was a Platonic dialogue. Adamantios Korais refers to the monasteries of Patmos and Mount Athos as “having robbed the whole Greece of its precious copies of manuscripts”. (Preface in Isocrates edition, 1807). Furthermore, in the 1720’s the French consul in Salonika, Esparne, organized a network of agents throughout Greece with a view to steal precious manuscripts. This network’s agents were monks.
After the liberation, the situation, as far as the antiquities trade is concerned, remained almost the same but now it was officially institutionalized by the laws of the modern Greek State. Capodistrias, for example, believed that the archaeological treasures were exclusively exchangeable goods.
Have the demons abandoned the Greek antiquities of the British Museum?
In an attempt to justify the destruction of Greek temples by the christians, orthodox Greeks sometimes admit that “indeed there are cases of destruction of the statues of their fake gods in the lives of saints” (official website of the Petraki monastery). Spreading out their medieval anachronistic thought they continue by pointing out that the ancient Greek statues “were dwellings of demons. In the ‘life of St. Paraskevi’ and other saints, we read that the saint herself, through praying, made the demons that lived in the statues confess to the trap which they had created for the humans and then to cause the destruction of the statues, in front of crowds, without them being touched by human hand”.
The demons, who dwelled – according to the church leaders – in the statues, which are hosted now by museums abroad (e.g. Elginian marbles, British Museum), had no reason to abandon their homes, so they must still be in the statues. As long as Greece withholds such medieval ideas, in case of repatriation of the Greek antiquities of foreign museums, we can immediately sense the danger; these statues may follow the destiny of the other ones – the ‘possessed by demons’ – which were broken, turned into lime and sanctified again by the christians who used them as construction materials in building churches.
Church of Virgin Mary Assumption (Koimisis of Theotokos – Pantanassa) in Monastiraki during recent restoration works, which cost 675.635 euros.
For centuries, christians were destroying the Parthenon and building christian churches around the Acropolis with its marbles. It takes just a leisurely walk for any visitor – who’s not an expert on archaeology – to see the ancient marbles that are part of numerous christian churches situated in archaeological sites just below the Acropolis (Dionysus theatre, Ancient Agora, etc.) and all over Plaka.
If each and every Greek government wished to take real action instead of putting up a ‘show’ in front of the cameras, they should give the necessary orders for the study and planning to remove the parts of the ancient marbles from the christian churches in the area of the Acropolis, their relocation on the Parthenon and the removal of all christian churches from the archaeological sites. (Of course, the devout Ministry of Culture would rather spend funds – not on the removal but rather – on the restoration of such churches, as, for example, the church of St. George in the archaeological site of Vravron, next to the temple of Demetra, the monastery of Daphni on the site of the temple of Daphnaios Apollo, etc.).
Since the Greek State, the Church and Modern Greek people for years have been trading antiquities with illicit dealers and even today they still treat the ancient heritage with contempt, they have no right to claim to be victims of this situation and demand the return of the marbles. Nor do they have the legal right to ridiculously call upon their biological origin (which, in fact, is doubtful) so as to claim the cultural treasures on behalf of a deeply medieval and corrupted State of theocracy, where the last threads of European theocracy flourish.
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After the completion of the removal of marbles from the Christian churches around the area of the Acropolis and their return to the Parthenon, then perhaps Greece can be entitled to demand the return of the marbles from the foreigners, starting from our neighbours, the Turks, who have to return the marbles of ancient Greek temples that christian emperor, Justinian, removed so as to build Hagia Sophia. (written by: Yiannis Lazaris, www.freeinquiry.gr).