The Parthenon, this magnificent temple in honor of the goddess Athena crowning the Acropolis in the Greek capital, continues to wow the world 2,000 years after it was built.
It also continues to spark debates about the true owners of its archaeological remains.
In October of this year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a meeting with his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, that it was not for the British government to decide to return the Parthenon friezes on display in the British Museum in London – But, yes, for the Foundation.
Parthenon friezes taken from Greece In the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, better known as the Earl of Elgin – hence they were also called Elgin marbles.
In total, there are 15 paintings and 17 marble carvings that were part of the original decoration of the Parthenon, built about 2,500 years ago and which many Greeks refer to as the country’s main cultural heritage.
BBC infographic showing data on Elgin marble – Photo: BBC
Johnson’s response to the Greek prime minister’s request was to seek options for returning the marbles.
The British government has indicated on several occasions that it will not return the parts to Greece.
In March of this year, Johnson himself ruled out any possibility of a return or exchange.
“I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people on this issue, but the government United kingdom He took a long-standing firm stance on the sculptures – which Lord Elgin had legally acquired under the laws in force at the time and had been the legal property of the trustees of the British Museum since their acquisition,” the British prime minister told the Greek newspaper Tania.
For its part, the Museum has stated on various occasions that the marble was obtained legally and that “the Parthenon sculptures are a vital part of the global interconnectedness that exists within the Museum, as they contain elements of Greek, Egyptian, Persian and Roman cultures.”
But how did the famous friezes reach the British Museum and what other attempts were made to return them to it? Athena?
The story of a great monument
The friezes were taken from the Parthenon in Athens in the early 19th century – Image: Getty Images via BBC
It is estimated that the Parthenon was completed in 430 BC and has always impressed both locals and foreigners.
However, over the years, it ceased to be a temple for the cult of Athena and became a ruin area.
The impressive structure has been severely damaged over time, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries, when Greece It was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.
The memorial to the Ottoman Venetian War was exposed, in the late 17th century, when it was hit by a cannon shot which caused a massive explosion and destroyed its roof.
Then, over the course of the 18th century, most of the remaining pieces were gradually destroyed or looted.
And just at the beginning of the 19th century, Earl Elgin entered the scene. At that time, he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which was in control of Greek lands.
According to the version given by several directors of the British Museum, Lord Elgin knew not only the immense artistic value of the friezes, but also their history, and wanted to pass them on to the United kingdom In order to protect them from destruction.
In this way he negotiated with the Ottoman authorities permission to take the friezes and capitals to London.
The transfer was carried out with great difficulty – many works were seriously damaged during the trip to United kingdom. It took them nearly four years to arrive London.
The Elgin Marble, a treasure of the British Museum – Image: Getty Images via BBC
In fact, the initiative has been criticized by some in United kingdom From the beginning: the famous poet Lord Byron opposed the idea of removing the famous marble balls from Greece He called Elgin “The Vandal.”
In 1805, inconsistencies were also found in Elgin’s letter, as many historians point out. The Count told the Ottomans that one of the reasons for removing the friezes from the Greece It was to be enjoyed by people all over the world.
But the first thing Elgin did was take the famous sculpture home.
The enormous cost of transportation and divorce bankrupted the earl – he was forced to sell the friezes to the British Museum for $438,000 in 1816.
And that’s where they’ve been on display since 1839.
It is worth clarifying, however, that these are not the only Parthenon pieces on display abroad Athena.
After the end of the Ottoman occupation of Greece In 1832, a search campaign began for the antiquities that had been taken from the country.
Around 1925, several Greek organizations indicated that the pieces taken by Count Elgin should be returned to Greeceand its place of origin and affiliation.
They pointed out that the entity that granted Lord Elgin permission to carry the famous friezes was an invading agent, and therefore had no authority to grant such permission.
But in 1983, there was an official claim. Melina Mercury, the first woman appointed Minister of Culture in GreeceAn official request to the British government to return the friezes to it Athena.
It did so in front of the Elgin Marble, in the heart of the British Museum itself.
What does the Taj Mahal mean to India? What do the Sistine Chapel paintings mean to Italia? Our pride is the Parthenon marble balls. They are our identity. They are the current link with the Greek franchise. They are our cultural heritage. Our soul,” she argued at the time.
But again, both British Museum directors and the government argued that the Foundation was the rightful owner of these works.
In recent years, campaigns to bring the friezes back to Greece have gained traction – Image: Getty Images via BBC
Another argument repeated in London It has been decades since that Greece It did not have a suitable place to store the famous marble balls. But this claim faded with the opening of the modern Acropolis Museum in 2009.
Although Mercury’s request did not have the desired effect, it did lead to a series of campaigns by organizations such as the International Association for the Reunification of Parts of the Parthenon, and on several occasions, the Greek government attempted to restore the business.
The current effort promoted by Mitsotakis is contemplating a kind of exchange between works that have never left Greece To be displayed in the British Museum in exchange for the restoration of the friezes.
Even celebrity human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has made recommendations on how the country could require the return of friezes, appealing to international law.
Collective Greece He stated that he would not file any legal procedures and that he would confine himself to diplomatic efforts to reach a decision on the future of the desired cornices.
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