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Why Britain must re-think the Parthenon Marbles issue

The British Museum continues to hang onto the Elgin Marbles, but many in Greece are now suggesting that the 2012 Olympics in London should be used a a deadline for return, with the Olympic flame being handed over in exchange for the Marbles.

American Chronicle [1]

Britain must rethink the case of Parthenon Marbles Restitution
Nicolas Mottas
October 26, 2008

It was in 1801 when the then British ambassador in Constantinople, Thomas Bruce (the known as Lord Elgin), obtained a firman from the Ottoman authorities taking permission to remove sculptures from the Athens’ Parthenon.

Two centuries later – in fact 207 years later – the British capital, London, is preparing to host the 30th Olympiad in 2012. The ancient masterpieces of the Parthenon still remain in the British Museum, around 2440km far from their original place, as long as the Greek demand for the Marbles restoration has been collided to the years-long denial of the Museum’s administration. However, two facts create a new dynamic in favour of the campaign for the restitution of the Parthenon sculptures: the construction of the New Acropolis Museum and the 2012 London Olympics.

A fundamental argument of the British side was that, in Athens, there wasn’t a proper place to accommodate and expose the Parthenon antiquities. But this claim is no longer valid. A brand new place, the New Acropolis Museum, is going to open its gates to visitors and tourists in early 2009. Designed by the renowned architect Bernard Tschumi, the new Museum is located in the foot of the Acropolis rock, facing the landmark of Democracy. The British Museum is located in central London. But, as far as we know, the ancient sculptures were removed from the Parthenon and not from Trafalgar Square – therefore, a reasonable and understandable point is that the proper place for their public display is near their authentic environment.

Moreover, the administration of the British Museum still argues that a possible restoration of the Parthenon Marbles back to Greece would set a ‘precedent’ which could lead to the emptying of the Museums. But, that point of view seems to ignore something: the fact that the demand for the restitution of the ancient Greek antiquities consists a unique case, based on the need to reunify a great monument of humanity. That because the Marbles which were taken away by Lord Elgin are an integral part of the Parthenon itself. Therefore, their display in their original place, in sight of the Parthenon, would certainly give a thorough understanding of the historical and cultural context of the Acropolis as a whole. In London, the visitor can only see some – impressive but divided – parts of a mutilated monument.

Until today, the British side refuses to return the Parthenon Sculptures back to Greece. But the 2012 London Olympics are less than four years away. And, to be honest, I try to imagine the time when the organizers of the Games will visit the archaelogical site of ancient Olympia in order to receive the Olympic Flame – I guess it will be a quite uncomfortable situation, when the flame will be travelling from Greece to Britain while the Parthenon Marbles will still be remaining in London. Thats why the two sides have to talk to each other, to discuss the issue again and reach a fair compromise. An agreement which would satisfy the years-long demand for the reunification of the Parthenon, without damaging the interests of the British Museum. It is possible.

Britain and Greece are two countries that share many decades of traditional friendship, alliance and co-operation. Furthermore, the majority of the Britons have expressed a positive stance towards the Restoration of the Parthenon Marbles and that should have been evaluated by their governments and the British Museum. That did not happen until now, but I strongly believe that there is a great opportunity with the 2012 Olympic Games. It is then when Britain could make a kind gesture which, as the unforgettable Melina Mercouri had said once, would ever honour its name.