ATHENS, GREECE (AP) – It’s just the size of a shoebox, sculpted with the broken foot of an ancient Greek goddess.
But Greece hopes that the 2,500-year-old marble, which arrived on loan from an Italian museum on Monday, will help resolve one of the world’s most complex cultural heritage disputes and lead to the reunification of all of Athens’ surviving Parthenon sculptures — many of which are in the museum. British.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the Sicily Museum gesture “opens the way, I think, for other museums to be able to move in a similar direction.”
“The most important, of course, is the British Museum, which must now realize that it is time for the Parthenon balls … to finally return to their natural habitat,” he added, expressing gratitude to Italy for the loan.
The piece was part of a 160 m (520 ft) long frieze that ran around the outer walls of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Much was lost in the seventeenth century bombing, and the British diplomat Lord Elgin removed about half of the remaining work in the early nineteenth century. They ended up in the British Museum, which repeatedly refused Greek demands for their return.
Officially, the Museum of A. Salinas archaeological site in Sicily loaned the foot of Artemis, goddess of hunting, to Greece for a maximum of eight years. But the ultimate goal, Italian and Greek officials say, is its “indefinite return” to Athens. In return, Greece will loan important artifacts to Italy.
“The solution we came up with proves that if there is a will between museums and cultural authorities in two countries, there can be a mutually acceptable solution,” Mitsotakis said during a ceremony at the Acropolis Museum, where Greece’s remaining sections of the frieze are. Among the actors in London.
It will embrace the foot of Artemis like a missing jigsaw piece between two original parts and a copy of a larger section now in London.
Successive Greek governments have lobbied for the British Museum’s share of the works, which include statues from the Parthenon arches – gables made entirely of marble. They argue that Elgin cut the sculptures illegally, bypassing the terms of a questionable permit granted by the Turkish authorities while Greece was an unwilling part of the Ottoman Empire.
The British Museum rejects this position and – despite indications that UK public opinion supports the Greek request – has shown no intention of returning the works permanently.
Mitsotakis raised the matter again at a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London in November. On Monday, he said he was “encouraged” by Johnson, saying the British government would not oppose a potential deal on the sculptures’ return – if the British Museum and Greece reach an agreement.
The Italian piece, which measures 31 x 35 cm (12 x 14 in), was acquired under unknown circumstances by the 19th-century British consul in Sicily Robert Fagan, and his widow sold it to the Museum of Sicily.
Demetris Pantermalis, director of the Acropolis Museum, said the marble foot may have been dislodged in 1687, when a mortar fired by beleaguered Venetian forces hit the Parthenon, which was being used by the Turkish garrison on the Acropolis as a storehouse for gunpowder. But he said it was in better condition than the rest of the frieze.
“In all other cases, the surface is a little scratched,” he said. “Here it contains the freshness of the original, and that makes us proud.”
The Parthenon was built between 447-432 BC and is considered the crowning work of classical architecture. Although used respectively as a church and mosque, it remained almost unchanged until the siege of Venice.
The frieze depicts a procession in honor of Athena. Some small pieces of it – and other Parthenon sculptures – are in other European museums.
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