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How could Britain benefit if the Parthenon Marbles were returned?

Recently, Greece has offered to loan Britain various artefacts – some never exhibited before – in exchange for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Sunday Herald [1]

Greece offers relics for Marbles swap
Athens of the North to host a major exhibition of classical relics … if British Museum agrees to hand Elgin statues back to Olympic city
By Liam McDougall Arts Correspondent

EDINBURGH will be granted a major exhibition of priceless Greek treasures if Britain agrees to a controversial deal to allow the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens.

Sources close to talks between the British and Greek governments have said the Scottish capital – dubbed the Athens of the North – has been earmarked by Greece as the host city for the event under new compromise proposals.

If agreed, the exhibition in Edinburgh is likely to include hundreds of “previously unseen” antiquities excavated recently from Athens as well as some of the most highly prized Greek artefacts from the dawn of civilisation.

It will also mean the two halves of the 2500-year-old artefacts – removed from the Parthenon temple by Scottish peer Lord Elgin in 1801 – will be together for the first time in more than 200 years and in Greece when it hosts the Olympics next year.

Until now the British Museum, which exhibits the Marbles, has refused proposals put forward by Greece to have them returned. However, the terms of the new loan deal are expected to be raised when delegations from the two countries meet with Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural agency, at the end of the year.

Dr Elena Korka, head of the archaeology department in the Greek culture ministry, said Greek culture minister Evangelos Venizelos wanted to bring a “series of important temporary exhibitions” to the British Museum in London and to Edinburgh.

She added: “Edinburgh is very much in our plans and is a town where exhibitions could arise. It is so rich with neo-classical architecture and there is a great interest in Greek antiquities. Of course, it also has its own Parthenon temple on Calton Hill. But any move on this would have to start with the British Museum considering the loan.

“There is no list of artefacts because talks have not yet advanced that far. But we would seek requests from the British side and would also suggest certain things that could be exhibited. It would be profitable to both sides.”

But the deal could only be struck if the British Museum agreed to a long-term loan of the Marbles to Greece or allowed them to be housed in a special “British Museum” annex to the new £64m Acropolis Museum in Athens, which is being built for the 2004 games.

The new museum is crowned with an upper gallery, called the Parthenon Hall, which will remain empty until the Marbles have been returned.

So far, the British Museum has only granted the loan of eight classical Greek vases, decorated with scenes from early Olympic Games, from its Greek and Roman department and two classical Greek coins for exhibition in Athens.

Neil MacGregor, the museum’s Glasgow-born director, has said he believes the British Museum is the best place for the Marbles to be exhibited because they can be shown in context with exhibits from other cultures.

But last night there was growing support for their return to Greece. Allan Wells, the Scots sprinter who won gold in the Moscow Olympics of 1980, said: “The Marbles should be returned to their rightful owners for the Olympics. Just as we had to wait several hundred years for our heritage, the Stone of Destiny, Greece has been made to wait. Greece are the rightful owners. To say that the Marbles should not be returned because of the revenue they bring to Britain strikes me as a selfish attitude.”

Other backers of the campaign to have them returned include London mayor Ken Livingstone, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and actors Emma Thompson, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Sean Connery.

Freddie New, campaigns manager for the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, said: “We hope that the new proposal will herald a new era. Having the Marbles returned and an exhibition in Scotland can only be good a thing.”

Professor Elizabeth Gebhard, an honorary fellow of the School of History and Classics at Edinburgh University, added: “How fitting it would be to have an important Greek exhibition in the place known as the Athens of the North.”

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said last night that the museum had not received an official request from the Greek authorities.

She added: “We are always very keen to try to loan our exhibits but there are certain objects that are integral to our collection and the Elgin Marbles fall into that category. The only formal requests we have received from Greece has been for the sculptures to be on permanent loan there. That is not a proposal we could agree to.”

24 August 2003