Ironically, my very first thought about the burning of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral was not about the cathedral of Notre Dame, but rather about a much more ancient monument in a completely different country, one whose fate bears certain striking similarities to Notre Dame: the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.Like the Notre Dame de Paris, the Parthenon was originally built as a house of worship and, like Notre Dame, it is named after a famous virgin. (The Parthenon’s name in Greek means “House of the Virgin,” originally referring to the virgin goddess Athena. Notre Dame de Paris means “Our Lady of Paris,” referring to the Virgin Mary.)Construction on the Parthenon began in 447 BC and it was completed in 432 BC. Just to put into perspective how incredibly old that is, at the time when the Parthenon was built, the land on which the city of Paris now stands was nothing but swampland; not only had the New Testament not been written yet, but the canon of the Hebrew Bible had not yet been compiled and many of the books that now make it up had not even been written yet; not only did the French language not exist, but Classical Latin did not even exist yet either; and Rome was just a tiny city in Italy that few people outside of the immediate region had heard of or even cared about.By the time the Gallic city of Lutetia, which is now the modern city of Paris, was founded in the first century BC, the Parthenon was already around three and a half centuries old—roughly half the current age of Notre Dame. By the time Old French evolved from Vulgar Latin in around the eighth century AD, the Parthenon was already around 1,100 years old—nearly one and half times as old as Notre Dame is today.By the time the Notre Dame de Paris was completed in around the late 1250s or thereabouts, the Parthenon was already over 1,690 years old—over twice as old as Notre Dame is today. Now, in 2022. it has been 2,451 years since the Parthenon’s final completion in 432 BC—making the Parthenon over three times as old as Notre Dame. The Parthenon has stood on the Akropolis for so long that you could fit the entire 243-year history of the United States into the lifespan of the Parthenon ten times over and still have years left over. To put it simply, the Parthenon is very old.Then, on 26 September 1687—a day which will forever live in infamy—the unthinkable happened. The Parthenon suffered a fate even worse than the one which befell the Notre Dame de Paris yesterday; the Parthenon was literally blown up. The small Ottoman-ruled village of Athens was caught in the midst of a battle between the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks. The Turks were using the Parthenon to store gunpowder and, in the middle of the battle, a stray Venetian artillery shell struck the Parthenon, igniting the gunpowder stored within.The result was an absolutely catastrophic explosion that completely destroyed the roof of the temple, destroyed three of the four inner walls of the temple’s sanctuary, crumbled the cella completely to rubble, knocked over six columns on the southern side of the temple, eight on the northern side, and the destroyed entire eastern porch of the temple. As the columns came down, down with them came the architraves, triglyphs, and metopes.Fire and fragments of ruined marble rained down on the village of Athens that day. The explosion is estimated to have killed around 300 people and caused massive fires which raged throughout the city for days afterwards. When the fires finally ceased, anyone seeing the rubble of the once-great temple would have agreed that that was the end of the Parthenon, that the temple had finally been thoroughly destroyed.Here is an illustration from 1688, showing the Parthenon as it looked before the explosion:Here is a painting of the ruins of the Parthenon as they appeared in 1715. As you can see, there was not much of it left:Here is the earliest known photograph of the Parthenon, taken in October 1839:Even today, after over a century of extensive restorations to the Parthenon, the damage from that terrible 1687 explosion is still readily apparent, as these photographs demonstrate:Why am I talking about the Parthenon in an answer about the Notre Dame de Paris? Well, it is because I want to make a point about how looking back at our history can inform us about the present. Even though anyone alive at the time who had heard about the explosion in the Parthenon would have said that that was the Parthenon’s final destruction, today the Parthenon is still one of the most famous monuments in the entire world. It is widely considered a symbol of the glories of democratic Athens, of Greek culture, and of what human beings are capable of. It is still visited by roughly 7.2 million tourists every year.Here are some photographs of the Notre Dame cathedral now, after the fire:As you can see, although the damage is certainly severe, there is still quite a lot left of Notre Dame. Indeed, there is a lot more of Notre Dame left than there was of the Parthenon after it was blown up in 1687. Other cathedrals have suffered even worse damage. The Frauenkirche in Dresden, Germany was almost totally destroyed during World War II, but it has since been rebuilt and is now one of the most iconic monuments in Germany.The French president Emmanuel Macron has promised that Notre Dame will be rebuilt, but, even if Notre Dame cannot be fully rebuilt, even if it is impossible for us to fully repair the serious damage that the cathedral has suffered, this is still not the end of Notre Dame. It will almost certainly remain one of the finest examples of medieval Gothic architecture for centuries to come.For more of my thoughts on the destruction of this cathedral, see this article I published on my website, in which I treat this subject in greater depth.