January 15, 2004

Will Greece’s campaign for the restitution of the Elgin Marbles be sucessful?

Posted at 2:14 pm in Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum

Some in Athens are against the construction of the New Acropolis Museum. In many cases though, this is more of a political isue, brought about by people who are not seeing the situation objectively.

Sydney Morning Herald

Greek fight to win back marbles might be in vain
By Fred Bernstein
January 16, 2004

After almost two centuries of frustration, Greece had a new plan: to use the 2004 Summer Olympics, during which the eyes of the world will be on Athens, to pressure Britain into returning the missing sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon.

Known as the Elgin Marbles by those who say they belong to Britain (Lord Elgin acquired them from the Ottoman Turks, in 1806), and as the Parthenon Marbles by those who say they were stolen, they have become the world’s most famously contested works of art. But so far, all the diplomacy has not succeeded in getting them back to Athens, even for a short-term loan.

Among the reasons British officials give for not relinquishing the marbles, are claims that Greece doesn’t even have a suitable museum for them and that because of poor air quality in Athens, the marbles cannot be reinstalled on the Parthenon itself.

So the Greek Government chose Bernard Tschumi, the celebrated New York architect, to build a museum at the foot of the Acropolis. At the start of the Olympics, every TV in the world would broadcast its image, and announce the triumphant return of Greece’s lost icons. And if they weren’t returned, the building would stand as a gleaming reproach to Britain’s intransigence.

But the structure intended to settle a controversy has become an object of controversy. The design clashes with the setting, some critics say. It jeopardises an archaeological site, others claim. And perhaps most dispiritingly, there is almost no hope of meeting the Olympic deadline.

The marbles, carved more than 2500 years ago, depict a procession of hundreds of ancient Athenians to the Acropolis.

Many art historians have decried the British Museum’s stewardship of the sculptures, which it displays out of sequence. And diplomats have argued that the statues are so important to the culture that created them that they constitute a special case, distinct from any other debates about art and ownership.

With the Olympics approaching, the Greek Government has grown increasingly heavy-handed in its efforts to move the museum project forward. Last month, it passed a law that doubled as the museum’s building permit – an unprecedented move to override local authorities.

However, despite an offer to send loads of other antiquities to Britain in exchange for the marbles, the British Museum is unyielding. A museum spokeswoman confirmed the building of the Athens museum would not change its policy.

The New York Times

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