This post was prepared for the IOCARPM blog mid-year, but the issue of reunification of all the Parthenon Marbles in the Acropolis Museum is arguably the world’s most important and long-standing cultural property dispute.
The Acropolis Museum in Athens is the rightful home for all of the remaining sculptures from the Parthenon. Sitting below the Acropolis it is a world’s best practice museum, where the remaining sculptures are displayed in an authentic manner.
Figure 3 The Acropolis Museum
Why the Parthenon Sculptures should be returned by the British Museum.
1. The sculptures from the Parthenon, the Parthenon Marbles, otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles, are an integral part of the Parthenon. This beautiful Doric temple is the architectural wonder of the world. No other building has ever equalled its beauty, symmetry, and symbolism.
2. When we speak of the Parthenon we are not speaking of a single column or a single statue we speak of an integrated architectural, artistic, cultural, and spiritual expression, a unique symbol of Greece.
3. The Parthenon as an integrated whole has also become a symbol of Western civilization, and a global icon. Such a symbol is not divisible.
4. Lord Elgin was given permission to make architectural drawings and plaster casts from the Parthenon to improve the fine arts in Great Britain. He was also permitted to expose the ancient foundations and to remove fragments thrown to ground by the 1687 explosion. He was never granted permission to remove anything from any buildings on the Acropolis.
5. Greece had no say in the matter. Elgin took the Marbles from Greece while the country was under Turkish occupation. This was during a time when larger powers were pillaging antiquities from smaller countries, notably Greece and Egypt. Also, Britain was the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean at the time.
6. The British Museum has not protected the sculptures. In the period 1936-1939, the sculptures were irreparably damaged when they were scrubbed back to make them white, destroying their patina of ancient colours. Today the sculptures in the Athens museum are in far better condition than those in the British Museum, they are also being cleaned with the latest laser technology to retain their ancient patina.
Figure 4 Meticulous laser cleaning of the Parthenon Frieze