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Sydney’s Parthenon Project

New of a new initiative involving exhibitions & lectures, started by the University of Sydney’s architectural faculty.

Sydney Morning Herald [1]

30-year campaign for chips off an old block
Valerie Lawson
October 20, 2007

THE verbs may vary – chiselled, chopped, pillaged – but the fact remains that more than 200 years ago, the English ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, used the Royal Navy to transport marble sculptures from the Parthenon to England, where they were sold in 1816 to the British Museum.

Now, with the vast restoration of the Parthenon nearing completion, along with a new Acropolis Museum due to open next year, the time has come for the Elgin marbles, as they are known in England, to go home.

But don’t call them the “Elgin marbles” any more.

To Maria Ioannidou, the director of the Greek Government’s Acropolis Restoration Service, they are simply the “Parthenon sculptures”, and they must be returned to Greece.

“The Parthenon is not a ruin,” she insists. “It stands on its own, and therefore, to see it in its completeness, the sculptures should be returned to complete the Parthenon in its entirety.”

Ms Ioannidou will arrive in Sydney on Monday as part of the Parthenon Project, an initiative of the University of Sydney’s architectural faculty. The project includes exhibitions, a debate on cultural heritage and the annual Wilkinson lecture, co-presented next Wednesday by Ms Ioannidou and Nikolaos Toganidis, the architect responsible for the restoration project.

Ms Ioannidou, 56, has spent more than 30 years working on the Acropolis restoration project, which is funded by the Greek Government and the European Union.

In 1975, as a recent graduate in civil engineering, she worked with a committee on the restoration of a small temple on the Acropolis monument, which is topped by the Parthenon temple, built in the 5th century BC.

By 2000, she had responsibility for all restoration on the Acropolis, including the Parthenon.

Over the years, the setbacks have been many.

“Every day we see something we’ve never dealt with before,” Ms Ioannidou said.

Yet the rewards have been remarkable. One day, “we got to a wall on the Parthenon that had never been touched for 2500 years. You could see the chips of the tools used by the original builders. We could touch something that had never been touched, moved or restored for 2500 years. I felt very touched to witness and to be part of that.”

Ms Ioannidou still works 10 to 12 hours a day on the project, but luckily her family understands the commitment. Her husband is an architect, her 24-year-old son is a mechanical engineer and her 21-year-old son is studying applied mathematics at university.

What will she do when the restoration is completed?

“I will have a lot of work to do, not only for the Parthenon but the management of the archeological site. The surface of the rock was excavated during the 19th century, so now we have to restore [the] surface of the rock in order to face problems on the monument and enhance the site. It is a never-ending problem.”

After she retires, “I would like to stay close to the Acropolis and do a lot of writing, which I haven’t had the time to do because I’ve been so busy”.

If and when the Parthenon sculptures are returned, they will not be placed on the Parthenon itself, but in the new museum, to protect them against the elements.

Until then, the artworks will be represented by plaster casts made using the originals.

The Parthenon Project in Sydney is the brainchild of Theodora Minas, a lawyer and graduate of the University of Sydney.

Michael Turner, the senior curator of the university’s Nicholson Museum, said Ms Minas was “getting out and spreading the word – the absolute desire of the Greek people to see the Parthenon marbles returned by the British Museum to Greece”.

“She’s representative of a new generation of Greeks looking to right this perceived wrong to Greek cultural history and identity,” he said.

A Parthenon restoration exhibition will be on display at the Nicholson Museum until mid-December.