British Museum won't budge over Elgin Marbles

Greece offered on Monday to lend antiquities to the British Museum in exchange for the Elgin Marbles that once decorated the Parthenon but now are a star London attraction.

Museum director Neil MacGregor, however, said the frieze sculptures would not leave the country.

“The trustees’ position is that the marbles are an integral part of the British Museum and they cannot be lent without damaging the museum’s role,” he said.

“There is no question of putting it back on the Parthenon, you can’t recover what’s lost, so you can’t actually recreate the integrity of the Parthenon as a work of art. Greece wants the marbles back in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games there, and Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos visited London to step up the pressure for their return.

He presented the museum with proposals for a new Acropolis gallery in Athens where the treasures could be displayed—on permanent loan—alongside the building they originally adorned.

In return, the British Museum would have a selection of Greek treasures on rolling loan. Venizelos said he was optimistic that the Marbles would be returned to Greece but added that he was also realistic.

“This is our first contact.
It’s very important for us to organise and to accelerate contacts between the two museums,” he said, adding that his proposal was “very flexible.”

“For us the problem is not the ownership, the historical rights of the British Museum,” he said, but the desire to reunite the marbles—“to present the sculpture as a totality.”

The British Museum acquired the Marbles from Lord Elgin in 1811, and owns around half of the sculpture that once adorned the Parthenon.

Two weeks ago Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis raised the return of the Marbles with Tony Blair in Downing Street. - Sapa-AP

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