Italy returns Parthenon fragment in historic loan to Greece


Greece takes delivery this week of an ancient fragment that once adorned the Parthenon temple, the country’s most important archaeological site. The return of a museum to Italy is seen as the biggest boost to the British Museum, which holds the largest collection of Parthenon sculptures and has refused for centuries to return antiques to their former home.

The marble fragment will be unveiled at the Acropolis Museum on Monday, presented in a life-size representation of the Parthenon frieze.

The return is part of a revolutionary loan agreement signed between the Acropolis Museum and the Antonio Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Sicily, where the artefact has been on display since the 19th century.

FILE – Two women visit the Acropolis Museum in Athens as museums and archaeological sites open at night for two days on August 22, 2021.

The Parthenon fragment, representing the foot of a goddess, will be loaned for a period of four years in exchange for a headless statue of the goddess Athena from the 5th century BC. The term of the loan could be extended for another four years and the transfer of the fragment to Greece could eventually become permanent.

Sicily’s cultural advisor Alberto Samonà said it was an important cultural exchange that could pave the way for even larger international exhibitions organized by the Salinas Museum and the Acropolis Museum.

FILE - A woman looks at the Parthenon Marbles, a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, on display at the British Museum in London on October 16, 2014.

FILE – A woman looks at the Parthenon Marbles, a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, on display at the British Museum in London on October 16, 2014.

Greek experts say the loan deal adds to growing pressure on Britain to follow suit with the so-called Elgin Marbles, a massive collection of sculptures assembled by Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin , who in the early 1800s was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then controlled Greece. Britain bought them from Elgin in 1816 after a parliamentary inquiry into the legitimacy of his ownership.

The dispute marks one of the oldest cultural conflicts in history, with Athens demanding for decades that the British Museum return marble masterpieces to Greece. The Greeks accused the late British aristocrat of cultural theft.

FILE - Tourists visit the archaeological site of the ancient Acropolis in Athens on July 1, 2021.

FILE – Tourists visit the archaeological site of the ancient Acropolis in Athens on July 1, 2021.

Last week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mistotakis made a new offer for the return of the sculptures as the Acropolis Museum installed 10 fragments of the Parthenon frieze stored in the capital’s Archaeological Museum.

The return of the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum, he said, is a political and ethical issue with international implications. The PM said the return was aimed at healing a wound violently and illegally created by Elgin.

Mitsotakis raised the issue during talks with his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, late last year, offering to loan historical Greek treasures to the British Museum.

The Prime Minister’s Office has since said the offer fell under the British Museum. He added, however, that the marbles were to remain in Britain, arguing that they had been acquired legally and were not the subject of a property dispute.

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