British Museum faces pressure to return Parthenon artifacts to Greece

Streaming HUBMarch 24, 2023

Greece on Friday welcomed the return of ancient artifacts from the Acropolis, stepping up a campaign to pressure the British Museum to return a collection of sculptures taken from the ancient site in Athens more than 200 years ago.

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni led a ceremony on Friday for the repatriation of three statue fragments – a horse and two male heads – from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis to the Vatican museums.

Mendoni said, “Initiatives like this show the way how the fragments of the Parthenon can be reassembled, healing the wounds inflicted by barbaric hands so many years ago.”

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“This leads us to the just and moral demand of the entire Greek people and of this government and its prime minister, for the final return of all the statues of the Parthenon.” The pieces will be added to the collection at the Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009 on the floor of the ancient site in the center of the Greek capital.

Mendoni said Greece would be willing to lend the British Museum ancient Greek artifacts for exhibition to “fill the gap” if the marbles were returned.

“Greece cannot recognize the possession and ownership by the British Museum because it regards the sculptures as stolen products,” she said.

The Vatican called the return an ecumenical “donation” to Greece’s Orthodox Church, but the gesture has put pressure on the London museum to reach an agreement with Greece after a campaign launched by Athens 40 years ago.

The return of the remains of Greece's ancient Parthenon to Athens puts a British museum on the hot seat for not doing so yet.

The return of the remains of Greece’s ancient Parthenon to Athens puts a British museum on the hot seat for not doing so yet. (AP Photo/Petros Gianakouris)

The leader of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronimos II, said, “This act of Pope Francis is of historical importance and has a positive impact at all levels … We hope it will set an example for others.”

Greece argues that the Parthenon sculptures are at the core of its ancient heritage, while supporters of the British Museum say their return could undermine museum collections and cultural diversity globally.

Carved in the 5th century BC, the Parthenon sculptures were taken by the British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, before Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Culture ministry officials in Greece have dismissed comments made last month by British Museum chairman George Osborne that the UK and Greece were working on arrangements to display the Parthenon marbles in both London and Athens.

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Last year another marble sculpture piece from the Parthenon temple – a depiction of a foot of the ancient Greek goddess Artemis – was returned to Athens from a museum in Palermo, Sicily.

Bishop Brian Farrell, a Vatican secretary for promoting Christian unity, led the visiting delegation to Athens and said the return of the three pieces to the Vatican had been discussed during a visit by Pope Francis to Athens in 2021.

“The gift of fragments of the Parthenon that had been housed in the Vatican museums for more than two centuries shows itself as a cultural and social gesture of friendship and solidarity with the people of Greece,” Farrell said.

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“We assure you of our intimate pleasure at the fulfillment of your legitimate wish to have the pieces at home in their original places,” he added.

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