The Athenian temple was partly destroyed on 26 September 1687.
The 15-year ‘Great Turkish War’, an effort to oppose the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe, was made up of many more minor conflicts, including the Morean War between Venice and the Ottomans, in which the future Venetian doge and fêted Captain-General Francesco Morosini was given orders to capture Athens and its environs from the Turks.
The Acropolis, nevertheless, proved a troublesome target. The Turks were dug in on the summit, having heavily fortified the precipitous site. Much of the Turkish population now lived on and around the monuments and in various ancient buildings.
Pericles’ Propylaea was still in ruins following the explosion of a powder magazine kept there in 1656, while the Erectheum was a harem. Instead, the Parthenon presented Morosini with the most logical target as he pulled up his artillery on the Philipappus Hill.
Despite the earlier destruction of the Propylaea, the Parthenon was being used by the Turks as a gunpowder store, possibly in the belief that the sheer weight of history protected this extraordinary survivor from the Classical Age.
This was not the case. On 26 September 1687, Morosini fired one round, scoring a direct hit on the powder magazine inside the Parthenon.
The subsequent explosion caused the cella to collapse, blowing out the central part of the walls and bringing down much of Phidias’ frieze. Many columns also toppled, causing the architraves, triglyphs and metopes to tumble down.
Morosini later expressed the shot as ‘fortunate’. Over 300 defenders were killed, and fire swept through the Turkish settlement, leading to his recapture of the city.
A year later, however, the Venetians were forced to abandon the site as a new Turkish army approached. They considered blowing up the remains of the Parthenon to prevent its further military use but, thankfully, decided against the plan.