Italy set a precedent on Saturday, returning to Greece an artefact removed from the Parthenon frieze known as the “Fagan fragment” during a special event at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, it’s new permanent home.
The gesture marks the first return from state to state following an agreement between Regional Councilor for Cultural Heritage and Sicilian Identity Alberto Samonà and Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni under which the Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological Museum located in Palermo, Italy, returned the item to the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
In return, the Acropolis Museum sent a statue of goddess Athena, dating from 420-400 BC, to Palermo where it will stay on loan for four years.
“Today marks a new beginning. A historical beginning. Today, an effort has been completed, one that was discussed many times in the past and always ended in stalemate,” said Mendoni during the event.
“It took less than five months for the historical reunion. The process followed by the government of Sicily and Italy’s culture ministry for the final repatriation of the ‘Fagan fragment’ to Athens demonstrates the clear and moral path for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens,” said Mendoni.
“The enormously important decision of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Commission in September 2021 in combination with the final return of the Palermo fragment to Athens and its reunification, sets Greece’s just and legal request to the UK government on a new basis,” she said.
During Saturday’s event, Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said Italy was “at the forefront of applying in practice the principle of the return of cultural property with the aim of restoring the historical cultural heritage to its places and peoples of origin”.
“In this case, cultural property was legally in Italy but we wanted to send a strong message of friendship and closeness to Greece,” he added.
On his part, Samonà said it was moving to see the fragment being reunited with its mother work. “The fact that Sicily wanted to follow this path is part of the vision for a new Europe, one we believe in: a Europe of peoples, culture and identity rooted in its history and millennium of traditions.”
Welcoming the artefacts, President of the Acropolis Museum Board of Directors Dimitrios Pandermalis said he too hoped it paved the way for the “next big step for the restoration of the Parthenon”.
“Today is a big day for the Acropolis Museum, because with this event the journey of an important part of the eastern frieze of the Parthenon comes to a close.”
The Fagan Fragment is an excerpt from stone VI of the Parthenon’s eastern frieze depicting the gods of Olympus sitting and watching the procession and handover of a veil to goddess Athena. The fragment depicts the foot of goddess Artemis as she watches the procession of the Panathenaia Festival.
The fragment was formerly part of a collection that belonged to British consul for Sicily and Malta, Robert Fagan.
Earlier this year, the National Archaeological Museum returned 10 fragments from the Parthenon to the Acropolis Museum as a gesture of good will in hopes of setting the British Museum will follow with the Parthenon Marbles.
In May, the UK agreed to sit at the table with Greece to discuss the return of the Parthenon Marbles amid mounting pressure by the international community on the British Museum to return the illegally removed antiquities to Athens.