Weird History

How Famous Monuments Got Ruined

List Rules
Vote up the saddest cases of priceless historical treasures getting all smashed up.

When we look at old ruins, we may be tempted to think that time steadily wears down structures in an implacable, vague way. Let enough years go by and any building will crumble to its foundations or at least show severe wear and tear.

It's not necessarily true, though; some buildings and monuments have aged extremely well (check out the pristine 1800-year-old Pantheon in Rome, for example). Others, like the Colosseum or the Sphinx, look considerably more worse for wear - but it's not just the ravages of time that partially destroyed them. People actually damaged them at specific moments in history. Sometimes we know exactly when and how it happened.

Read on if you ever wondered why the Sphinx is missing a nose, or whether the Parthenon got all messed up in WWII. Answers (and a few new questions) await!

  • You might be forgiven for thinking that the Parthenon got its current battle-scarred look from WWII, but no: Athens fell to the Germans and Italians in 1941 without being bombarded.

    The Parthenon is so badly damaged because of an event which occurred two-and-a-half centuries earlier, on September 26, 1687. A Venetian force led by Captain-General Francesco Morosini fired an artillery shell at Ottoman forces dug in on the Acropolis. The shell was a direct hit on the 2000-year-old temple. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Ottomans had been using the Parthenon as a gunpowder depot. Massive damage ensued, forever scarring an irreplaceable cultural treasure.

  • The Buddhas Of Bamiyan Were Blown Up By The Taliban In 2001
    Photo: Alessandro Balsamo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

    Though Afghanistan is now a predominantly Muslim country, its history is rich and multifaceted. Conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, Afghanistan was a key site of Greco-Buddhism, a variant of the Eastern religion which flourished in the Greco-Bactrian kingdom that was established in Alexander's wake. Later, the Afghan town of Bamiyan lay on the legendary Silk Road, becoming exposed to cultural interchange between East and West.

     It was here that, in the 6th and 7th centuries C.E., two massive statues of Buddha - among the largest ever made - were built. They survived for more than 1400 years, until, in March 2001, they were deliberately taken out with explosives by occupying Taliban forces, because their existence was seen by the Sunni Muslim leadership as a form of idolatry.

    The destruction sparked an international outcry, but nothing could be done to prevent it. Now all that remains of the Buddhas of Bamiyan are the niches carved into the rock to house them.

  • Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the oldest - the Great Pyramid of Giza - still stands today. Of the others, some fell victim to earthquakes, but at least one - the grand Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey) - was deliberately torn down.

    The temple was actually destroyed and then rebuilt a few times. The last incarnation was built after a Gothic invasion destroyed the temple in 267 C.E. This version lasted until 401, when it was torn down by Christians fulfilling the wishes of recently-deceased Roman emperor Theodosius I, who had issued a decree against pagan practices.

    All that remain now are some foundation ruins and sculptural pieces.

  • The Colosseum Was A Quarry In The Middle Ages
    Photo: NH53 / Flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    The Flavian Amphitheater, better known today as the Colosseum, was opened for business in the year 80 or 81, its inaugural Games lasting for months and featuring entertainments of tremendous splendor (and violence).

    After the fall of the Empire in the 5th century (and with Europe's rapidly expanding Christianization), gladiatorial games weren't exactly a thing anymore. The last recorded gladiatorial exhibition at the Colosseum occurred in 404, and the last staged animal hunt (venatione) in 523.

    As is often the case with ancient structures, the Colosseum became an awfully tempting source of construction materials. This was exacerbated by two major earthquakes, in 847 and 1231, which shook loose large quantities of the building's stones. Loath to let good stone go to waste, medieval and Renaissance Romans repurposed the materials for new structures, including the steps of St. Peter's, the Palazzo di Venezia, and others.