Greek Culture Minister Myrsini Zorba said the return of the Parthenon Marbles is a “one-way street” in reference to the ongoing dispute between Greece and the British Museum during an international forum held in Athens, on the subject.
Speaking to a crowd of academics, archaeologists, curators and experts attending the workshop titled “Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures” at the Acropolis Museum on Monday, Zorba – citing an extract from Virgina Woolf – said “Greece is the [Marbles] birthplace, Athens their city, the Acropolis and its Museum their natural space”.
Zorba said the return and reunification of the sculptures with the Parthenon is a “persistent obligation that we have to resolve through dialogue a pending historical, cultural, scientific, aesthetic, political and ethical issue”.
During the event, Acropolis Museum Director Dimitrios Pandermalis challenged claims by the British Museum that Lord Elgin had obtained permission to transfer the Parthenon Marbles from Athens to London, citing findings collected from 19th-century Ottoman archives. According to the records, the sultan (Greece was under Turkish rule) only granted Elgin permission to dig around the Acropolis.
“There was no permit for excavation or for the removal and transfer of the sculptures by Lord Elgin,” Pandermalis said.
The event was jointly organized by the Greek Presidency, the Culture Ministry, the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures and the Acropolis Museum.
A call for the return of the Greek sculptures was made 37 years ago by then Culture Minister Melina Mercouri bringing the issue to public awareness. Zorba noted that although the Acropolis Museum had been open for a decade, the “Parthenon metope still remained divided and mutilated… an open wound, a result of cultural vandalism, exposed to the eyes of the world”.
The minister has in the past cited UNESCO decisions, which recognize the historical, cultural, legal and ethical dimensions of the issue of the return of the Marbles to the Parthenon, which is a World Heritage Site and as such of universal significance.
Greece has repeatedly appealed for the return of the 2,500-year-old marble sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon facade and were illegally removed and sold by Lord Elgin to the British Museum in 1816. Since then, they have been on show at the British Museum, which has long claimed that it acquired the monuments legally and that Elgin had received permission from the Ottoman authorities to carry them away.