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Parthenon fragment from Palermo returns for Nostoi exhibition

The return by others of artefacts that were once part of the Elgin marbles (e.g. the Palermo Fragment) [1], can only be seen as strengthening Greece’s position & adding to the pressure on the British Museum.

Daily Telegraph [2]

Italy returns Elgin Marbles fragment to Greece
Italy has given back to Greece a fragment of the Parthenon sculptures – increasing pressure on Britain to return the Elgin Marbles.
By Nick Squires In Rome
Last Updated: 6:01PM BST 24 Sep 2008

The 2,500-year-old section of marble was presented to the Greek government by Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, as a gesture of goodwill between the two Mediterranean countries.

The 14-by-13-inch artifact consists of a foot and part of a dress hem from a sculpture of Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

It originally stood above the entrance to the Parthenon as part of a 520-foot-long frieze that ran around the temple and featured other gods such as Poseidon, Apollo and Artemis.

It was among the marble pieces stripped from the Temple of Athena in the early 19th century.

A large proportion was taken by Lord Elgin, the then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, of which Greece was a part.

His collection ended up in the British Museum, where it remains today.

The fragment handed over by Italy on Tuesday was acquired by a museum in Palermo, Sicily, later in the 19th century.

Greece’s president, Karolos Papoulias, thanked President Napolitano for the return of the piece, which will stay in Athens on permanent loan.

“As you know, Greece is seeking the return of the Parthenon marbles (from the British Museum), so you are aware of the importance and the symbolism of this gesture,” Mr Papoulias said. “This gesture is especially appreciated.”

Greece hopes the return of the fragment will be the first step in having all the marbles returned to Athens, a demand it has been making for decades.

“When we opened the crate, the marble just shone … like a gem,” said Vivi Vassilopoulou, a senior archeologist from the Greek culture ministry.

Greek culture minister Michalis Liapis said the return of the segment was a boost to the country’s campaign to reunite all the Parthenon sculptures at a new museum at the foot of the Acropolis, due to open early next year.

“The positive responses we received in our international efforts encourage us to continue until we have achieved our target,” he said.

The British Museum insists that it legally acquired the marbles because Lord Elgin acted with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman authorities.

“(Our) position regarding the sculptures remains unchanged. Here in London the sculptures are an important part of a world collection which is free to all and which allows six million visitors a year to explore the complex network of interconnected world cultures,” said museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton.

The piece from Palermo is the second remnant of the marbles to be returned to Greece: the University of Heidelberg in Germany sent back a tiny fragment two years ago.

One of The Vatican’s museums will next month return two fragments from the Parthenon, an Italian official said.

“I hope this will at least open the way (for the return of the Elgin Marbles),” said archaeologist Louis Godart, President Napolitano’s cultural adviser.

The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 BC in honour of Athena and was decorated with hundreds of sculpted figures of gods and participants in a religious procession.

When Athens was under siege by the Venetians in 1687, the Parthenon was used as a gunpowder store and a massive explosion blew off the roof, destroying a large portion of the sculptures.

The Venetians began the plunder that was continued by later visitors, including Lord Elgin.

About half of the surviving works are now at the British Museum, while museums in France, Germany, Austria and Denmark also own small fragments.

Reuters [3]

Greece welcomes home Parthenon marble from Italy
Wed Sep 24, 2008 11:02am EDT

By Daniel Flynn and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters Life!) – Greece welcomed home a small fragment of the Parthenon marbles on Wednesday and expressed hope the gesture by the Italian government would prompt Britain to return its own prized collection of Greek sculpture.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano presented Greek authorities with the small piece of broken sculpture, removed from a frieze decorating the ancient Parthenon temple by British diplomat Lord Elgin at the start of the 19th century.

“This is the first step toward healing the wound left on the holy temple by the removal of the Parthenon marbles,” Greek President Karolos Papoulias told a news conference in the New Acropolis museum, built to house the marbles.

The fragment, depicting the robe and right foot of the hunting goddess Artemis, has spent two centuries in a museum in Sicily after Elgin gave it to the British consul-general there on his way back to London.

It returned from Italy after 13 years of delicate negotiations by the Greek government, which has long called on Britain to give back scores of priceless ancient sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles taken from the hill-top Acropolis.

The bankrupt Scottish Lord Elgin sold the treasures in 1816 to the British Museum, which still contains roughly half of the 160 meter (yard) frieze which adorned the 2,500-year-old temple.

To applause and cries of “bravo,” Napolitano helped to fit the fragment, measuring 35 by 34 centimeters (14 by 13 inches), into a reconstruction of the frieze on the museum’s glass-fronted upper hall, parallel to the Parthenon.

Expected to be open to the public next year, the museum was built at the foot of the Acropolis, under the marble temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, which was completed in 432 BC as the crowning glory of Athens’ “Golden Age.”

Under Italian law, the fragment will be on loan from Sicily’s Antonio Salinas museum, but officials said the deal was permanent. Italian officials also said the Vatican museum had agreed to return two pieces from the Parthenon later this year.

“Greece and Italy are often characterized as open-air museums and welcome every year millions of visitors … For these reasons we cannot accept smuggling of artifacts from their homeland,” Napolitano said before inaugurating an exhibit of 74 stolen antiquities recovered by Greece and Italy.

Most of the artifacts in the exhibition came from illegal excavations in Italy and were discovered in museums and private collections in the United States.

The British Museum has refused to return the treasures, which it says were acquired by Elgin under a contract with the Ottoman empire that then ruled Greece.

(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

USA Today [4]

Greece hosts exhibition of reclaimed ancient loot

ATHENS (AP) — The presidents of Greece and Italy on Wednesday opened an exhibition of more than 80 illegally excavated ancient treasures returned from U.S. and European museums and private collections.

Both antiquities-rich countries have suffered badly from looters and have joined forces to fight the scourge.

“Our two peoples have experienced … the sense of injustice caused by that criminal activity,” Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said. “Our history has been turned into a commodity.”

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and his Greek counterpart Karolos Papoulias inaugurated the exhibition, which runs until Dec. 31.

The core of the show was displayed earlier this year in Rome. Exhibits include ornately painted clay vases from the 6th to the 4th centuries B.C., marble statues, and frescoes from Pompeii.

Most came from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. In all cases, Greek and Italian authorities were able to prove the works had been looted and illegally exported.

The Athens venue is the still-unfinished New Acropolis Museum, where Greece hopes one day to display the Elgin Marbles beside its own collection of sculpture from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple.

The British Museum has rebuffed repeated Greek requests for the return of the works, removed by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin 200 years ago when Greece was an unwilling subject of the Ottoman Empire.

The London museum argues that it legally acquired the sculptures, which are accessible free of charge to visitors from all over the world.

But Greece’s campaign received a moral boost Tuesday, when Napolitano handed over a small fragment of the Parthenon frieze kept for two centuries in a museum in Palermo, Sicily.

The marble piece, the foot and lower leg from a relief sculpture of the goddess Artemis, will remain in Athens as a permanent loan. Next month, Italian authorities plan to hand over two more small fragments of the Parthenon sculptures from the collections of the Vatican Museums.

A museum in Heidelberg, Germany, also returned a small piece of the frieze two years ago. Other fragments are kept in museums in France, Germany, Austria and Denmark.

On Wednesday, Napolitano and Papoulias fitted the 14-by-13-inch (35-by-34-centimeter) Palermo piece into position among matching fragments from the Greek museum’s collections.

“May this be the forerunner in healing the wounds the sacred site suffered from the removal of the Parthenon Marbles,” Papoulias said.

The exhibition runs until Dec. 31. The New Acropolis Museum is expected to open its permanent exhibitions to the public by next March — at least six months behind schedule. Greek officials have not explained the delay.