LONDON — The gallery in the British Museum housing the stolen Parthenon Marbles still hasn't reopened after a COVID-19 lockdown was eased, reportedly because it was flooded with water from heavy rains on July 25.
A report by The Art newspaper, which said the galleries have been subject to flooding, said the rains inundated the museum, with a museum spokesman confirming “there was some water ingress in one of the [Greek] galleries.”
The newspaper also published photos showing signs of flooding in the museum back in January, as well as a recent photo showing a fan placed in front of a display of Parthenon sculptures, possibly to help dry the area.
In 2018, there were other photos showing water dripping into the gallery housing the frieze and sculptures from the Parthenon stolen 200 years ago by a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, during the Ottoman Occupation.
The museum said it legally acquired the stolen goods in a purchase from Elgin without noting that they weren't owned by the Turks but by the Greeks, and museum officials have said they will never be returned to Greece.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni in 2018 demanded the sculptures be returned but was ignored as have all Greek government officials and proponents of having the marbles be back in their home land.
A message on the British Museum’s website informs visitors that rooms 12-18 (the Greek galleries) are currently closed “due to regular maintenance works,” in an apparent attempt to hide what really happened.
Museum officials had said that the Greek galleries remained closed in July as work and surveys for future restoration was being undertaken, but wouldn't clarify if, of how much damage was done, including to the invaluable marbles.
In 2009, Greece opened a new Acropolis Museum with a top floor of glass designed to house the stolen treasures, taking away a British argument that Greece had no suitable place to showcase them.
Since then, the British Museum has used other excuses to not return the stolen marbles, which the curator said weren't stolen but taken out of Greece in a “creative act,” suggesting the theft itself was art.
After Greece's former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA gave up a legal fight for their return and said the marbles didn't belong to Greece but to the world, the New Democracy government has tenderly pressed for their return.
But Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis didn't raise that question when the United Kingdom was leaving the European Union, perhaps the last chance to force the hand of the British Museum as he didn't veto the terms as would have been allowed.
While other museums around the world are returning stolen goods, the British Museum won't, keeping valuable goods plundered during Colonial rule and arguing more people will see them in London than Athens.
The museum’s Trustees’ official argument is that “there’s a positive advantage and public benefit in having the sculptures divided between two great museums, each telling a complementary but different story,” noted Kathimerini.
Greece has argued they belong at their origin but the marbles are a big draw for the British Museum which doesn't want to lose them and British Prime Ministers have stood by arguments they don't belong to Greece anymore.
The British Museum also fears that returning the marbles would lead to demands for it to return other goods stolen from around the world and empty the museum as there are almost no British treasures that could be displayed.
The museum has offered to loan Greece its own marbles on the condition that the Greek government stipulate the Greek treasures don't belong to Greece but to the British alone now.
At one point, Mitsotakis asked for their loan and was willing to give as collateral for their return other Greek cultural icons and architectural wonders but hasn't taken up the legal fight for their return either.
“The current Greek government – like any Greek government – is not going to stop claiming the stolen sculptures which the British Museum, contrary to any moral principle, continues to hold illegally,” Mendoni stated during the birthday celebration for the Acropolis Museum last year.