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A couple of years ago, a new Acropolis Museum was constructed to house the Parthenon Marbles. It’s a world class architectural structure, located opposite the Acropolis and with a stunning view towards the cultural gem of Athens. The Museum was designed by architects Bernard Tschumi and Michael Fotiadis.
The theft of the marbles
The Acropolis museum exhibits half of the Parthenon Marbles, as the rest were stolen between 1801 -1804 by lord Elgin and transferred to the UK.
The antiquities smuggler had hoped to decorate his Scottish mansion with the marbles but ran into economic woes and decided to sell them to the British government. In 1816, the Marbles were moved to the British Museum in London.
Elgin dismembered the sculptures in order to move them from Greece, consequently causing considerable damage. The hearts of the Museum’s visitors tighten when they see the wounded sculptures.
While it may seem unthinkable, there was once a human hand that hacked the greatest works of global heritage.
The millions of tourists that visit Athens every year and tour the Acropolis Museum see empty exhibits, where the stolen Parthenon Marbles should have stood. They are left empty on purpose, to remind people that the British Museum should finally agree to return the marbles to their homeland.
Amongst the visitors are millions of British tourists, some of which may be saddened when they come across the cuts and scrapes left on the sculptures by Elgin’s tools.
Greece’s claim for the return of the marbles does not reduce the real appreciation that the Greeks have for the British people. Polls have actually showed that the British do not oppose the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
Britain has its own glorious history and great monuments. It does not need to be viewed by the global community as a receiver of stolen property, a common fence, hijacking the monuments of another country.
Τhe British Museum’s administration claims that it legally owns the sculptures, because they hold the property rights. What seems legal, though, is not always ethical.
Elgin took the marbles with the permission of the Ottoman conquerors and then relinquished them to the British government with a bill of sale. The British Museum believes that the aforementioned documents cancel out the theft, a legalistic argument but not very ethical.
The Parthenon Marbles are not orphan exhibits of a long-lost Atlantis. Greece is a country very much alive, just like the UK. No one has the right to hold its monuments. It is a cultural crime to keep half of the marbles in Athens and the rest in London.
The British Museum’s refusal to return the marbles is an insult to the Greek people, as it implies that modern Greece has nothing to do with Ancient Greece and that the marbles were not fathered by the same people.
It also implies that the Greeks are not capable of preserving the sculptures and that the British can better protect them. Since the unrivaled Acropolis Museum was built, however, this hypocritical argument has crumbled.
Τhe looting of an enslaved Greece
How can the UK, up to this day and time, still oppose the reunification of the sculptures? If a Greek antiquities smuggler hacked Stonehenge and moved half of the monument, what would the British do? Obviously, they would put a stop to it, because they have the power to do so.
In 1801, the Greeks were under the Ottoman boot and could not protest the theft. Elgin took advantage of this weakness and stole the sculptures after bribing the Turkish governor of Athens.
The Turks purposely gave the sculptures to Elgin, in order to amputate the cultural heritage of the enslaved Greeks. But the people then rebelled and freed themselves. They shed rivers of their blood to save their genus and their monuments.
The claim will never be silenced
The thousands of Greeks that visit the British Museum should also pressure it, in their own way, to return the marbles. They should protest in front of the exhibitions and put up banners.
They should also document the protests by taking pictures and video. The images will flood the web and raise awareness around the world.
The historically ignorant heads of the British Museum, who cheekily challenge the continuity of Hellenism will eventually have to recognize that there is a country named Greece and that the marbles have a home.
Everyone knows that either way the sculptures will one day return to Athens to be reunited with their counterparts; that’s where their womb is, their natural habitat. This will be done deterministically and no natural force cannot prevent it.
The heads of the British Museum are doing their country a disservice by blocking the return of the marbles. This will eventually happen so why shouldn’t they initiate the move, highlighting the cultural greatness of their country?
The UK has two different paths ahead. Either to take the high road and look magnanimous or to be lead to a de facto retreat. Why turn an advantage to a disadvantage?
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS