"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are" Anais Nin

New Acropolis Museum – Parthenon Marbles: give stolen marbles back

“The Marbles are calling back the Marbles”

Museum director Prof Dimitris Pandermalis said

the opening of the museum provides an opportunity to correct “an act of barbarism” in the sculptures’ removal.

Losing your marbles

Helena Smith

Published 18 June 2009


Observations on the Parthenon Marbles

photo by The Associated Press - All Rights Reserved

photo by The Associated Press - All Rights Reserved

A little before noon on Saturday 13 June, in the heart of Athens, the classical carvings known as the Parthenon Marbles were removed from their protective cellophane, to be glimpsed for the first time in the New Acropolis Museum. There in the upper gallery, within view of the sacred rock itself, the icons of ancient Greece will remain.

Antonis Samaras, the tall, urbane Greek minister of culture, ushered me in to see the sculptures, a week before the official opening of their new €130m (£110m) home.

“You are the first one to see them without cellophane,” he said, and added, “and now you can see why there is such a big ‘why’.”

The New Acropolis Museum is a crowning achievement of modern Greek culture – completed after more than 30 years of procrastination and acrimonious debate. It is luminous, cavernous and designed to echo the Golden Age temples. There are few places as stupendous as this. Samaras’s tour, almost two years after my last visit to the then half-finished museum, was a treat I had long looked forward to. And there I was, standing before the sculptures.

“They’re awful, eye-poppingly awful,” I blurted, as Samaras walked around exclaiming: “This one’s English, that one’s authentic, this one’s in the British Museum, that one’s the real thing.”

With more than 60 per cent of Phidias’s monumental frieze on display in Bloomsbury, thanks to Lord Elgin, Athens has had to make do with giant plaster-cast copies, acquired from the British Museum in the 19th century, to narrate the full tale of the frieze’s great Panathenaic Procession.

Museum curators had initially contemplated “touching up” the casts with a patina to make them seem more authentic, but officials finally stuck with the deeply unsettling whiter-than-white finish. Interspersed with Iktinos’s exquisite originals, they stand out like eyesores.

“One of the most important elements of this museum is to show, in total clarity, the truth,” said Samaras. “And the truth is that something is missing and that times have changed, and that even most Britons now believe the marbles should be reunited here in Athens.” Looking up at the light-speckled Parthenon, he continued: “Finally, this demolishes the charge that we don’t have a proper place to display and preserve the sculptures.”

The world’s most famous frieze, amputated against the backdrop of the temple it once adorned, has a peculiar effect. If you are an art lover you want to scream at the pity of it all. If you are English you want to curl up beneath one of the marbles in embarrassment and cry out:

Give them back!

A Home for the Marbles

Source: New York Times By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS Published: June 18, 2009

Courtesy of the British Museum

Courtesy of the British Museum

LONDON — This weekend, the new museum of the Acropolis will open its doors in Athens, in a striking modern building situated at the foot of the rock itself. For a long time, it has not really been possible for a visitor to Greece to visit the buildings on that most famous of all hills, and also the sculpture that used to adorn them in the days of the cult of Pallas Athena. Atmospheric pollution and structural weakness necessitated the protective removal of a good number of the statues and carvings, and bureaucratic and political delays kept on putting off the day when a serious gallery for their exhibition could be provided. Now, however, it will be possible for a tourist to walk around the temples of the Acropolis — which themselves have been undergoing an extensive and careful restoration — and then to stroll around a museum, within sight of the temples, where the carvings of Phidias and others are at last again on display. I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of both sites earlier this year. I think that nobody can fail to be impressed by the combined efforts of Bernard Schumi, the Swiss architect, and Dimitrios Pandermalis, the museum’s director. The crucial floor is the top one. Here, all the available treasures of the Parthenon have been lovingly and logically arranged in a gallery that is layered differently from other levels so as to replicate and mirror the layout of the temple, up at which it directs the visitor’s gaze. Given all the hazards of time and chance and weather, and all the vicissitudes that the Parthenon has suffered down the milennia, this is the nearest that one can currently come to a full enjoyment of the aesthetic whole. But that’s where the rub lies. A huge portion of “the available treasures” of the Parthenon have been segregated from the main body and cannot be seen in harmony with it. I am referring to the so-called “Elgin marbles”: the huge chunks of the frieze, the pediment and the metopes (panels) that were quite literally “ripped off” from the Parthenon in the early 19th century, and carried off to Britain, where they were supposed to decorate Lord Elgin’s private home in Scotland. Only his bankruptcy saved them from this fate, and he contrived to sell them to the British government, which holds them to this day in the British Museum in London. The “Elgin line,” of sculptural partition and annexation, runs through a poem in stone that was carved as a unity and that tells a single story. It even cuts through figures and characters in that story. The body of the goddess Iris is now in London, while her head is in Athens. The front part of the torso of Poseidon is in London and the rear part is in Athens. This is grotesque. Recently, President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy paid a visit to the Acropolis Museum in order to return a fragment of the frieze — the foot of the goddess Artemis — that has been sitting for years in the Salinas Museum in Palermo. His generous gesture in helping reunify the masterpiece of the sculptor Phidias has been equaled by the Vatican museum, which has returned the head of a young man from panel No. 5 of the north frieze, and by the museum at Heidelberg, which has given back the foot of a young man playing the lyre on panel No. 8. But, still, huge expanses of the sculpture, with its honey-colored patina warmed by centuries of Attic sun, are represented in absentia by a doleful white plaster-cast simulation of the exiled brothers and sisters. How long can the British authorities cling jealously to the loot of their former ambassador to a long-vanished Turkish empire? (Greece was a vassal state when Lord Elgin’s men showed up with their crowbars and cranes.) For a long time, the British Museum did have a couple of plausible arguments in its quiver. It could try to maintain that restoring the marbles to Athens would set a precedent that might empty great museums of their collections. And it could call attention to the fact that the Greeks had nowhere to house the sculptural marvels. The first argument was never as strong as it sounded: Where is the court that decides that an aesthetic gesture is a “precedent”? Have the Hittites and the Babylonians now besieged the Vatican for the return of every other treasure ever moved? Don’t be silly, in other words. The only precedent that has any value is the good example set by Italian and German museums which understand that it makes no sense to wrench apart, and keep apart, a magnificent work of art. As to the second objection, having dithered for years in a way that drove all of us Philhellenes nearly crazy, the Greeks have now excelled themselves in creating a place worthy of its breath-taking contents. It is not a question of denuding one great and old European museum, so much as of completing another great and new one. The British people, when asked, have repeatedly shown that they want to do the right thing and reunify the sculpture. It is impossible to visit Athens and not yearn for the day when Britain decides to right an ancient wrong and show that a beautiful artefact is more than the mere sum of its parts.

Christopher Hitchens is the author of ‘‘Imperial Spoils: The Case for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles’’ and a columnist for Vanity Fair.

The “Elgin line,” of sculptural partition and annexation, runs through a poem in stone that was carved as a unity and that tells a single story. It even cuts through figures and characters in that story. The body of the goddess Iris is now in London, while her head is in Athens. The front part of the torso of Poseidon is in London and the rear part is in Athens. This is grotesque. Why the British Museum cannot recognize the endgame is anyone’s guess.


9 responses

  1. olga makridi

    I really cannot understand how some people claim that Parthenon Marbles belong to British Museum. Now that the Council of B. Museum lost one of their primary arguments of returning Parthenon Marbles back, they are forced to claim the originity of the Marbles. I will agree with British Museum’ s spokewoman who said that u can’ t claim something which isn’ t yours. OH BUT OFCOURSE: PARTHENON MARBLES BELONG TO PARTHENON. ISN’ T THAT OBVIOUS? Or the British Museum is afraid that if give Greece Marbles back, then all the countries will claim their antiquities back too? I am not only a Greek citizen, i am also an archeologist and hope one day to see Parthenon Marbles in their origin place, and this isn’ t any Museum…it is the closer they can be to their home…Parthenon! If not British Museum RETURN Marbles back, then with much anger and dissapointment to my self i have to admit that there is only one solution: move the rest of the Parthenon to London! In that way at least the monument will be reunited ang one piece at last!!! (AND FOR THOSE OF THE READERS WHO CANNOT UNDERSTAND ME, I M JUST BEING SARCASTIC!!!TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF THE REST OF THE PARTHENON, ONE THEFT IS ENOUGH!)

    June 21, 2009 at 19:23

    • dear Olga,

      thank you for your contribution and comments.

      Also, you should take a look at this – it’s hard to believe, but true:

      a very provocative and brutal BBC’s articleReturn the Marbles? Forget it” by Trevor Timpson – BBC News

      June 22, 2009 at 00:10

    • Benoit

      Calm down, Olga. You haven’t change at all since I was in Athens; your name still means “fire”, obviously.

      Elpizw kai egw na ksanapane ta marmara sto spiti twn, kai na dw to neo museio mia mera. Mou phainetai fantastiko.

      Nasai kala !


      October 15, 2009 at 12:11

  2. June 22, 2009 at 00:17

  3. Museum director Prof Dimitris Pandermalis said

    the opening of the museum provides an opportunity to correct “an act of barbarism” in the sculptures’ removal.

    June 22, 2009 at 00:28

  4. Hello,

    I read the article of Ms Dorothy King which reinforced my belief that the marbles should return to their homeland for the following reasons:

    1) It seems that she has totally overseen (Mr) Elgin’s action of vandalism against one of the most important monuments of the world (where was Britain’s appreciation to the marbles then?)
    2) This action of disrespect and barbarism seems to be supported by Ms King, who equally selfishly, doesn’t quite provide a convincing answer as to why the New Acropolis museum and its staff are less capable of taking care of the marbles
    3) Her lack of respect and her ignorance is not just against the monument but also against Ms Melina Mercury, who apart from being a talented actress was also an activist against Greece’s military junta , she became a member of the Hellenic Parliament and the first female Minister for Culture of Greece… who is Ms King again?
    4) She calls the marbles “Elgin marbles”…since when are pieces of art named after their vandalists and thieves, instead of their creators?? I am sorry… but that is not just unacceptable; it is an act of vituperating , especially coming from an archaeologist.

    The PARTHENON marbles (as Ms King avoids calling them, so as to avoid stating the obvious) should become part of their “Mother” monument and I believe that they will soon as their hostage by the British museum is embarrassing to the British people (who are close to my heart as I have many British friends) and a disrespectful, uncivilized and a selfish act of clearly other kind of interests…

    Thank you for your time.

    June 23, 2009 at 11:07

  5. Yiannis

    British Museum MUST return the marbles that were stolen from Greece. The British have no right to keep these GREEK staff in their museums away from their (the marbles’) home. This is a case of pure stealing but the Brthish Museum don’t want to return them to us (the GREEKS) because in this way the museum will become empty of artifacts. This is true because England never developped sush a CIVILIZATION as GREECE ,which is the best in the whole globe, and as a result British people and government do not know the meaning of this word (CIVILIZATION). When we (the GREEKS) were building the ACROPOLIS the British were living in caves and the olny example of history that they have to display is this stonehedge which is some stones one above the other and of course cannot be compered with the works of ART that we have created. RETURN THE MARBLES NOW YOU ANIMALS!!!!!

    March 4, 2010 at 18:05

  6. Benoit

    “the best civilisation in the world”; “they used to live in caves”; I love Greece and have many greek friends, and also sincerely wish the marbles to return their home, but what you said isn’t but a salad bowl of clichés that many greeks have, unhappily, about other europeans, and only show your caricatural ignorance. Be carefull when you talk about the others and about the past ! And read.

    March 5, 2010 at 00:04

  7. Yes! Finally someone writes about footstool.

    July 18, 2014 at 13:23

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