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Restore the Parthenon Marbles

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"We say to British goverment: you have kept those sculptures for almost two centuries. You have cared for them as well as you could, for which we thank you. But now, in the name of fairness and morality, please give them back. I sincerely believe that such a gesture from Great Britain would ever honour your name". Melina Mercouri, Greek actress and politician, Oxford Union, June 1986.

With pleasure I was informed that the British-based Greek enterpreneur Sir Stelios Hadji-Ioannou is willing to participate actively in the campaign for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles. The case of Marbles reunification's effort is, less or more, known. Information about the historical backround of the ancient sculptures, their removal from the Athens Acropolis and transfer to London, can be found in various sources, including the internet. On that issue there has been a decades-long concern which is connected with the restoration of the Marbles to their homeland, Greece. However, as it is mostly known, no progress has been done on the issue, mainly due to the continual denial of British Museum's administrations to discuss such a possibility. Yet, the question still remains: should the Parthenon Marbles return to their natural environment, in the place where they were created, or they should remain in the place where Lord Elgin moved them in the early 19th Century?

On June 2006, the J.Paul Getty Museum of Los Angeles announced that it would return to Greece pieces of ancient works which had been illegaly removed from the country in 1993. Similarly, on September 2006, a Marble heel of the Parthenon was restored back to Athens by the Heidelberg University and two months ago, Greece was positively surprised by the kind move of a Swedish teacher, Birgit Wiger-Angner, who handed back a piece of sculpted Marbles which had been picked up by her great-uncle in 1896. In Britain, various public opinion polls have showed that the vast majority of British citizens are in favour of Parthenon Marbles' restoration, creating a positive context for the British government to move towards the repatriation of the sculptures.

Nonetheless, despite the various campaigns(1, 2, 3) for the restoration of the Parthenon Marbles and the international support and recognition that these efforts have acquired, both London's British Museum (1, 2, 3) and the British governments have demonstrated a disappointing unwillingness on the issue, stating that the Marbles belong to the Museum and should stay there. But their arguments can be doubted, as long as they have failed to give answers regarding two issues: firstly, the legal status under which Lord Elgin removed the ancient sculptures between 1801 and 1812 and secondly, the conditions under which the Parthenon Marbles have been maintained in London - there is a significant number of sources arguing that the sculptures were seriously damaged during transfer to Britain while, during the past decades, their maintainance in the British Museum has been into doubt (1).

However, as matter of respect of western cultural heritage, the collections of Parthenon's ancient sculptures should be reunited in their original environment, so the world can have a complete picture of them. That original - and moreover historical - environment is the Parthenon itself. It is there where the removed sculptures belong and where the visitors of Athens can see their context in relation to the Temple of Parthenon, perhaps the most important ancient landmark of western civilization. Furthermore, the Marbles' repatriation campaign has been enriched with one more argument: the recent construction of the New Acropolis Museum. The place which could safely host the ancient sculptures, just a few metres from the Temple, in full harmony with their original historical context.

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Aris Claras is a writer based in Greece.

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