ATHENS – In an emotionally charged atmosphere, on January 3 an event was held to return 10 Parthenon fragments which had been at the National Archaeological Museum of Greece to their proper place in the Acropolis Museum. The event took place in the exceptional space of the latter, in the presence of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni.
This is a symbolic move to highlight the need for all parts of these antiquities to be returned to where they really belong. The Acropolis Museum is the only acceptable place – according to common sense – for their preservation and exhibition, a position which is validated by the return of the 10 fragments which are from the frieze, the metopes, and pediments of the Parthenon. One of them is the head of a youth from a sculpture that is currently held in the Louvre in Paris, while another is from the north section of the frieze. Until recently, the fragments were exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum, where the archaeologist George Despinis had first confirmed their origin, and now they rightfully join the other Parthenon exhibits.
At the event, in addition to Mitsotakis and Mendoni, Acropolis Museum Director Nikolaos Stampolidis and Chairman of the Board Dimitris Pantermalis spoke on behalf of the Acropolis Museum, emphasizing the incomparable beauty of the ancient monument and the importance of its symbolism.
Stampolidis noted, referring to the stones that make up the exquisite monument of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, that “written on them is the history of a people at a time of the culmination of its culture which has since been characterized as classic, as the transfiguration of the spirit on matter in an unsurpassed way.”
Pantermalis, after praising this national masterpiece of the highest importance and the elegance and precision with which it was designed, said: “This monument today receives some of its fragments and we all hope that this act is a new start in the issue of the restoration of the Parthenon Sculptures.”
In the context of the above, one could not fail to mention the barbaric way in which Lord Elgin desecrated and looted the sculptures from the prominent monument in the past. As Mendoni characteristically noted in this regard, “our position was from the beginning and remains national, unanimous, irrevocable, and clear. The violent and destructive detachment of the sculptures from the Parthenon and their removal from their natural and conceptual environment is contrary to the applicable laws, the common sense of justice, and the morals of the time that it took place,” continuing, as she added, to oppose National and International Law, and internationally agreed upon and commonly accepted principles on the protection of cultural heritage.
The struggle of Greece for the repatriation of the sculptures, as the Minister of Culture pointed out, started almost immediately with the formation of the Greek state and then was internationalized and put on a systematic basis in the 1980s by then-Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri. As far as the protection of this cultural heritage is concerned, if nothing else, according to Mendoni, the January 3 event was the starting point of a new culture, a culture of cooperation between museums and a non-proprietary relationship with any exhibits.
“Today, we are present at a very important moment for Greece, for the Acropolis, for the Acropolis Museum, for world culture,” the Greek Prime Minister noted in the same spirit, emphasizing the resounding message sent by this action of reunification of the 10 fragments with the other sculptures of the masterpiece. After all, as Mitsotakis said, “the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is not a matter of distance, because, whether they are here in Athens or anywhere in the world, their destination is only the Sacred Rock and this wonderful museum.”
The Parthenon Marbles must be returned to their one and only natural space and this is a message sent out in every direction, to every museum in the world that has a part of them and especially to the United Kingdom – to the British Museum where the coveted sections of the Parthenon Frieze have remained far from the Greeks for two centuries.
“With the strength of their unity, not with the partiality of their fragmentation,” said Mitsotakis, it is appropriate for these Sculptures to be exhibited, and the Greek state is moving in this direction “upgrading to a higher political level the return of its Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum.”
This, as he added, is “a request from UNESCO, a request from the majority of public opinion in the United Kingdom as well. But also an issue that I believe Prime Minister Boris Johnson personally understands, as I found out in our recent meeting,” on which” there are no longer any substantial arguments to delay this important issue of the times and of Greek-British relations.”
The Prime Minister closed his speech with a wish that other parts of the Parthenon also return to their birthplace and home, which is none other than the Acropolis Museum. The highly symbolic event concluded with the installation of two of the returned Parthenon fragments in the Acropolis Museum’s Parthenon hall.