ATHENS – Rebuffing claims by the British Museum that the Parthenon Marbles were legally obtained from Lord Elgin almost 200 years ago, Acropolis Museum Director Dimitrios Pandermalis said the Scottish diplomat didn’t have permission from officials of the Ottoman Empire occupying Greece.
“There was no firman – meaning a sultan’s decree – for the removal and transfer of the sculptures by Lord Elgin,” Pandermalis said in an address to an international workshop about reunification of the marbles, organized by the Greek Presidency, the Culture Ministry, the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures and the Acropolis Museum.
Pandermalis said he had data from 19th Century Ottoman archives proving that Elgin did not
He said that an examination of the Ottoman archives between 1800 and 1830 by two Turkish experts revealed that Elgin was only granted permission to dig around the Acropolis, Kathimerini said in a report on the event.
“The document that has been saved and called a firman, and which was cited by Lord Elgin, briefly an ambassador for his country to the High Porte, is, in reality, not an order by Sultan Selim III,” Pandermalis said.
He said it was “an administrative letter” sent to Ottoman authorities in Athens which granted permission to dig into the earth mounds that were created around the Acropolis after it was bombed by cannon fire in 1687 by Venetian general Francesco Morosini. “There was no permit for excavation or for a removal (of the Parthenon Marbles,)” he said.
The British Museum has long claimed that it acquired the Parthenon Marbles legally and that Lord Elgin had received permission from the Ottoman authorities which ruled Greece at the time to take them to Britain.
The Acropolis Museum was built, and opened in 2009, with glass walls on the top floor where it was hoped that the stolen marbles would be placed if the British Museum gave up its claims and returned them, which it has steadfastly refused to do, claiming they no longer belong to Greece.
With the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA essentially giving up the fight to have the stolen Parthenon Marbles returned, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said they should be released from a room in the British Museum and housed in the light-filled glass-walled Acropolis Museum, which has a view of the Parthenon, their home.
Pavlopoulos, from the major opposition New Democracy, has emerged as Greece’s perhaps foremost new champion to get the marbles returned after SYRIZA said they belong to the world, not Greece, and gave up a court fight, preferring diplomacy, which has failed.
“Let the British Museum come here and make the comparison between this (Acropolis) museum of light and the murky, if I may say, prison of the British Museum where the Parthenon Marbles are held as trophies,” Pavlopoulos also said at the same event, said the news agency Reuters.