Are Elgin Marbles a step closer to being returned? British officials agree talks to resolve long-running dispute with Greece over sculptures
- The Elgin Marbles are a 17-figure collection of classical Greek marble sculptures
- British government has agreed to talks on repatriation of the ancient artefacts
- Last year Greek PM Mitsotakis proposed that they could do an artefact exchange
- Campaigners for the Marbles’ return have shared their delight of latest update
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Hailed by campaigners as a ‘step in the right direction’, the UN’s cultural agency Unesco have backed formal talks between the British and Greek governments to engage in a ‘bona fide dialogue’ to resolve the long-standing issue.
The Elgin Marbles are a 17-figure collection of classical Greek marble sculptures made by architect and sculptor Phidias, a Greek sculptor whose statue of Zeus, the god of the sky in ancient Greek mytholgy, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
They were were taken from the Parthenon in Athens by the then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, between 1801 and 1812, and are now on display at the British Museum.
The Government has been under increasing pressure to return the marbles in recent months, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisting that they were ‘stolen’ in November last year.
The British government has agreed to Unesco-backed talks on the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, pictured on display at the British Museum, which could see the artefacts brought back to Greece and resolve the long-standing issue
The Elgin Marbles (pictured) are a 17-figure collection of classical Greek marble sculptures made by architect and sculptor Phidias, a Greek sculptor whose statue of Zeus, the god of the sky in ancient Greek mytholgy, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world
However, it has been the UK’s long-standing position that the marbles were acquired legally. Mr Johnson also insisted after Mr Mitsotakis’s comments that any decision on returning them has to be made by the British Museum.
But the British Museum has disputed this claim as they argue that since the treasures are technically publicly owned, the repatriation of the statues is a decision to be made by Parliament.
And now the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport will be leading talks with Greece, but have said that the UK’s long-standing position on the issue ‘has not changed’.
The Elgin Marbles were were taken from the Parthenon in Athens by the then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, between 1801 and 1812, and are now on display at the British Museum (pictured)
Around 260ft (80metres) of the marbles are in London, whilst Athens is home to a smaller 164ft (50metres) section.
According to the Telegraph, the latest formal talks between Greek and British ministers were suggested by British officials, and are to be held by arts minister Lord Parkinson and Linda Mendoni, the Greek arts minister.
In November, the Greek PM proposed that the 2,500-year-old scuptures could be loaned by the British Museum in an artefact exchange.
The Government has been under increasing pressure to return the marbles in recent months, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, pictured right during his visit to see Boris Johnson (left) at 10 Downing Street in November last year, insisting that they were ‘stolen’
In November, the Greek PM proposed that the 2,500-year-old scuptures could be loaned by the British Museum in an artefact exchange. The two Prime Ministers pictured speaking at the start of their meeting at 10 Downing Street at the end of last year
The Artemision Bronze – an ancient Greek sculpture of Zeus or Poseidon – and the golden Mask of Agamemnon, described as the ‘Mona Lisa of prehistory, were thought to be the treasures being considered for exchange.
Campaigners for the Marbles’ return have shared their delight of the latest update, with Marlen Taffarello Godwin, of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, who said it was a ‘step in the right direction’.
Professor Paul Carteledge, vice chair at the Committee, explained that it was only a matter of time until the talks would be agreed by the UK government as ‘pressure has been building’ for some time.
The British Museum stated that they would not be taking part in these Unesco-backed talks.
A spokesman said: ‘The British Museum can confirm that no new talks with the Greek government have taken place or are planned regarding the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures.’
A LONG-RUNNING HISTORICAL DISPUTE: WHAT ARE THE ELGIN MARBLES?
The Elgin Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that were mostly created by Phidias and his assistants.
The 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, removed the Parthenon Marble pieces from the Acropolis in Athens while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.
In 1801, the Earl claimed to have obtained a permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon.
As the Acropolis was still an Ottoman military fort, Elgin required permission to enter the site.
His agents subsequently removed half of the surviving sculptures, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.
The excavation and removal was completed in 1812 at a personal cost of around £70,000.
The sculptures were shipped to Britain, but in Greece, the Scots aristocrat was accused of looting and vandalism.
They were bought by the British Government in 1816 and placed in the British Museum. They still stand on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.
Greece has sought their return from the British Museum through the years, to no avail.
The authenticity of Elgin’s permit to remove the sculptures from the Parthenon has been widely disputed, especially as the original document has been lost. Many claim it was not legal.
However, others argue that since the Ottomans had controlled Athens since 1460, their claims to the artefacts were legal and recognisable.