November 13, 2002

Greece offers Britain artefact loans in return for Elgin Marbles

Posted at 8:18 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Greece has outlined a new deal to the British Museum, whereby a series of temporary loans of artefacts – some of them never before publicly displayed – would be made available if the Elgin Marbles were returned to Athens.

The Age (Melbourne)

Greece offers art loan in exchange for Marbles
November 13 2002

Greece has offered to lend antiquities to the British Museum in exchange for the Elgin Marbles that once decorated the Parthenon but are now a star London attraction.

Museum director Neil MacGregor, however, said the frieze sculptures would not leave the country.

“The trustees’ position is that the marbles are an integral part of the British Museum and they cannot be lent without damaging the museum’s role,” he said.

“There is no question of putting it back on the Parthenon. You can’t recover what’s lost, so you can’t actually recreate the integrity of the Parthenon as a work of art.

Greece wants the marbles back in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games, and Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos visited London to step up the pressure for their return.

He presented the museum with proposals for a new Acropolis gallery in Athens where the treasures could be displayed – on permanent loan – alongside the building they originally adorned.

In return, the British Museum would have a selection of Greek treasures on rolling loan.

Venizelos said he was optimistic the marbles would be returned to Greece, but added that he was also realistic.

“This is our first contact. It’s very important for us to organise and to accelerate contacts between the two museums,” he said, adding that his proposal was “very flexible.”

“For us the problem is not the ownership, the historical rights of the British Museum, ” he said, but the desire to reunite the marbles “to present the sculpture as a totality.”

The British Museum acquired the marbles from Lord Elgin in 1811, and owns about half of the sculpture that once adorned the Parthenon.

Two weeks ago, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis raised the return of the marbles with British counterpart Tony Blair in Downing Street.

– AP


Greeks offer deal to get marbles back
Britain likely to get pick of prized antiquities

Helena Smith in Athens
Monday November 11, 2002
The Guardian

Greece’s campaign to shame Britain into handing back the Elgin Marbles comes to London this week when the Greek culture minister presents officials with elaborate plans of the new Acropolis museum where exhibition space will be left empty for the treasures.

The minister, Evangelos Venizelos, is expected to rachet up the pressure for the classical sculptures to be put on permanent loan to Greece – in exchange for all manner of rotating exhibitions – during a meeting with the new director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, today.

According to senior aides in Athens, the politician will formally outline how such an exchange could work, and benefit both countries. Mention of the marbles being “repatriated” or “returned” will be diplomatically dropped.

“The legal question of ownership of the Parthenon marbles is no longer important to us, and Mr Venizelos will make that very clear,” said Eleni Kourka, a specialist on the carvings at the culture ministry.

Mr MacGregor will almost certainly be told that he can take his pick of Greece’s vast collection of antiquities if the 5th century BC wonders can be shown in the new Acropolis museum by the time Athens stages the 2004 Olympics.

“The British Museum has financial problems as we have seen from the theft of certain Greek pieces because of inadequate security,” said another aide requesting anonymity. “Our offer of rotating exhibitions could be profitable, they would have a huge choice.”

Since acquiring the marbles from Lord Elgin in 1816, the British Museum has owned 56 sculpted friezes, 15 metopes and 17 pedimental statues – around half of the statuary that once adorned the Parthenon.

“The British Museum could cooperate in permanently displaying the marbles in Athens by, say, opening a branch here. We honestly believe the atmosphere is changing and that everything is possible,” added Dr Kourka.

Greek officials, she said, had been especially encouraged by the findings of a recent MORI opinion poll in which 65 % of Britons expressed support for the return of the marbles to their natural setting.

The poll, commissioned by the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles and released last month, showed that 25% of respondents favoured the marbles being handed back provided they were properly exhibited.

Although the location of the new Acropolis museum, at the foot of the temples, has aroused acrimonious debate in Greece – experts contend its construction will destroy unique archaeological finds on the site – there are few who have criticised its design.

The Greek culture minister will unveil the $100m glass behemoth in Bloomsbury tomorrow. With him will be the architect Bernard Tschumi.

After raising the issue with Tony Blair in Downing Street two weeks ago, the Greek prime minister, Costas Simitis, said the museum “will be ready at the end of 2003, or early 2004.”

“If you enter into dialogue, exert pressure and present arguments, goals can be achieved,” said Mr Simitis. “Now that the exhibition space will be ready by 2004, it is an opportunity to remind the British that the time has come for some decisions to be made.”

BBC News

Monday, 11 November, 2002, 09:44 GMT
Greek minister on Marbles mission

The Greek culture minister will step up his campaign for the return of the Elgin Marbles when he suggests a deal to the British Museum.

During a visit on Monday, Evangelos Venizelos will ask the museum to let the sculptures to go on permanent loan to a specially-built gallery in Athens in return for Greek antiquities going the other way.

The marbles are ancient friezes from the Parthenon and have been at the centre of a tug of war between the UK and Greek authorities for years.

A new museum is being built to house them on the Acropolis hill in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics – despite the fact that the British Museum has steadfastly refused to return them.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the British Museum told BBC News Online that any suggestion the sculptures could leave the museum was “total nonsense”.

“People expect to see the marbles in the museum – they are part of its core collection and are the property of its trustees, who are forbidden by legislation to dispose of them,” he said.

Mr Venizelos will meet British Museum director Neil McGregor before holding talks with the UK’s culture secretary, Tessa Jowell.

“He is going to present the Greek proposal for the permanent loan of the marbles to Greece, with the exchange of some temporary exhibitions of Greek antiquities,” a spokesman for the Greek minister said.


The marbles depict the most formal religious ceremonies of ancient Athens – the Panathenaea procession.

Although they once adorned the Parthenon, they were taken to England by the seventh Earl of Elgin and given to the British Museum in 1816.

A recent campaign, Parthenon 2004, backed by more than 90 UK MPs and public figures, called for the marbles to be returned to Athens in time for the Olympic Games.

Groups opposing their return say they have been saved from deterioration from Greek pollution by the museum.

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