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Stolen Parthenon Marble Returned by Italy On Display in Greece

ATHENS – It’s only the size of a shoebox, carved with the broken-off foot of an ancient Greek goddess.

But Greece hopes the 2,500-year-old marble fragment, which arrived Monday on loan from an Italian museum, may help resolve one of the world’s thorniest cultural heritage disputes and lead to the reunification in Athens of all surviving Parthenon Sculptures — many of which are in the British Museum.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the Sicilian museum’s gesture “opens the way, I believe, for other museums to be able to move in a similar direction.”

“Most importantly, of course, the British Museum, which must now realize that it’s time for the Parthenon marbles … to finally return here, to their natural home,” he added, voicing gratitude to Italy for the loan.

He earlier told the British newspaper The Telegraph that Greece is “putting together the jigsaw” for the return of all the marbles despite the insistence of the British Museum they are the rightful owners of the stolen goods.

The marbles were taken 200 years ago by a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who said he had permission from the ruling Ottoman Occupation which didn’t own them. He later sold them to the British Museum.

Mitsotakis earlier had wanted the British Museum to only loan them to Greece, in return for the loan of other Greek treasures, but turned toward wanting their permanent return but hasn’t used legal action and his request for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intervene was rejected.

The Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009, was built to counter the British Museum’s claim that there was no safe place in Greece for the Greek marbles to be displayed, but it has turned to other arguments to reject their return. The Acropolis Museum’s top windowed floor has set aside space for their display, if ever returned, with a view of the Parthenon.

Sicily’s regional archaeological museum said earlier it had signed an agreement with the Acropolis Museum in Athens for a once-renewable, four-year loan of the small white marble piece it has, in exchange for a loan of a statue and vase. 

NOT FAGAN’S FRAGMENT

The ultimate aim, Sicily’s A. Salinas Archaeological Museum said in a statement, is the “indefinite return” of the fragment to Athens, without explaining why that wasn’t done immediately since it had bought a stolen treasures.

About half the surviving 5th Century B.C. sculptures that decorated the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis are in the British Museum in London, which has long resisted Greek appeals for their return. 

“The return to Athens of this important artefact of the Parthenon goes in the direction of building a Europe of culture that has its roots in our history and in our identity,” said Sicily’s Councilor for Cultural Heritage and identity, Alberto Samonà.

The piece is the right foot of a draped figure of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, originally located on the eastern side of a 160-meter (520-foot) sculpted frieze that ran around the temple. 

It came to Palermo by way of a 19th century English Consul in Sicily, Robert Fagan, though it remains unknown how he acquired it. After Fagan died, his widow sold the fragment to the University of Palermo’s Regio museum, which became the A. Salinas regional museum, the statement said.

The Parthenon Marbles now in Lond are 17 figures from the building’s pediments and part of the frieze and the Greek government says they were stolen and wants them returned for display in the Acropolis Museum.

Italy’s fragment was loaned to Athens in the past, but for short periods of time. Sicily’s regional authorities have initiated talks with the Culture Ministry to make the loan permanent, putting it on the agenda of a ministry committee that handles returns, the statement said.

Italy has been at the forefront of international efforts to recover antiquities that were looted from its territory and ended up in museums and private collections around the world. 

It has also been on the returning end of the restitution market when it finds antiquities or artworks that were illegally brought into the country.

In exchange for receiving the foot fragment, the Acropolis museum is loaning the Palermo museum a 5th century B.C., marble statue of Athena and also a terracotta amphora in the linear, geometric style that dates from the mid-8th Century B.C., the statement also added.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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