Often known as the Elgin Marbles these are actually the Parthenon Sculptures from the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. The Parthenon on the Acropolis at Athens was constructed between 447 and 438 BC. It was built as a temple to the Greek goddess Athena but had many uses throughout its history. In 1687, when Athens was under seige, the Parthenon was used as a gunpowder store and the roof was blown off. The building lay in ruins for many years and by 1800 only 50% of the original sculptural decoration remained.
Between 1801 and 1805, Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, (to which Athens had belonged for 350 years) removed half of the sculptures from the ruins and brought them back to England. Lord Elgin's actions preserved the sculptures from further weathering.
In 1816, the British Museum acquired the sculptures and they have been on display to the public for free ever since.
Find out more about the Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum website.