Memorandum submitted by the Greek Government
On behalf of the Government of the Hellenic
Republic, the Rt Hon Elissavet Papazoi MP, Minister of Culture,
submits to the Select Committee's inquiry on "Cultural Property:
Return and Illicit Trade" (terms of reference of Press Notice
No. 12, 10 February 2000) evidence pertinent to the return of
the Parthenon Marbles housed in the British Museum in London.
1.1 The "return of the Parthenon Marbles"
refers explicitly to the Greek Government's claim for the repatriation
of the architectural sculptures and structural elements of the
Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens. These were removed from
the monument in the early nineteenth century at the behest of
Lord Elgin, then HM Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, and subsequently
purchased from him by the British Government, consequent upon
an Act of Parliament passed in 1816.
1.2 The Parthenon Marbles were placed in
the custody of the British Museum in London, where they have remained
ever since. They include: 15 metopes from the south side of the
ancient temple, 56 reliefs from the frieze, 19 sculptures from
the two pediments, other fragments belonging to the aforesaid
units, one column capital, one column drum and one thranos; that
is almost half the sculptural decoration that was once an integral
part of the monument (see Appendix 1).
2. THE GREEK
2.1 The return of the Parthenon Marbles
has been an issue for Greece since its Independence (see Appendix
The claim for their return has been espoused by a significant
number of distinguished personalities, including prominent British
intellectuals and politicians, during the two centuries since
their removal from the monument. In 1940-41 the return of the
Marbles to Greece was seriously considered by the British Government.
In October 1983 the Government of the Hellenic Republic submitted
to the Government of the United Kingdom an official request for
the return of the Parthenon Marbles. The request was denied.
2.2 The Government of the Hellenic Republic
has promoted the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles
in several international fora including UNESCO, where it was first
raised in 1982 and was approved by the overwhelming majority of
representatives. The 1998 written declaration of the European
Parliament in favour of the Return of the Parthenon Marbles to
Greece, as well as the 1999 recommendation by UNESCO that bilateral
talks be initiated between Greece and the United Kingdom, are
among recent moves that bear witness to the strong and continuing
European and international interest in the issue (see Appendix
3.1 The dismantling of the Parthenon, between
1801-11, irreparably destroyed the monument's structural integrity.
The removal of the metopes entailed the mutilation of several
adjoining architectural and sculptural elements and resulted in
the dilapidation of the building. The sculptures of the frieze
were sawn off from their supporting blocks to facilitate their
transportation. A Doric column capital was cut in two for the
same reason. Essential structural elements of the temple (geisa
and triglyphs) were destroyed. These interventions
were recorded by Lord Elgin's agents and witnessed by foreign
visitors to Athens. They were also censured, as tantamount to
spoliation, by eminent British peers, politicians and intellectuals,
contemporaries of Elgin (see Appendix 4).
3.2 The Parthenon Marbles were almost lost
in a shipwreck on the voyage to Britain. Upon arrival in London
they were stored temporarily inside a coal shed. From documents
in the British Museum archive they are known to have been cleaned
with metal brushes and abrasives in 1937-38, which action damaged
irreversibly the surface of a large number of sculptures. These
harmful interventions have been confirmed by the team of Greek
experts who examined the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum
in October 1999 (see Appendix 5).
4. THE CASE
4.1 The uniqueness of the Parthenon
Works of art from all periods of ancient Greek civilisation
are exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, thus
providing millions of people with the opportunity to enjoy, to
appreciate and to study them. The Parthenon Marbles, however,
are a unique case.
The sculptural decoration and architectural
elements of the Parthenon were not created as independent works
of art; they were conceived and designed from the outset as integral
parts of the monument. And the monument, built in the fifth century
BC, still stands on the Acropolis of Athens.
The Parthenon, symbol of the Athenian democracy,
represents the art of Classical Greek civilisation at its zenith.
The Acropolis, which the Parthenon graces, was the sacred epicentre
of ancient Athens, around which all the important functions of
the city (the Agora, the Pnyx, the theatres, etc) were gathered.
The Parthenon remains the emblem of the city of Athens and the
symbol of Greek cultural identity. It is also part of the global
cultural and architectural heritage, one of the first monuments
entered by UNESCO in the World Heritage List. Indeed, it is the
logo of UNESCO. However, the cultural, historical, archaeological
and aesthetic values of the Parthenon are most closely interwoven
with the city in which it was created, Athens.
4.2 The unification of the archaeological
sites in the historical centre of Athens
The Acropolis and its surrounding area are the
primary targets of the on-going programme for the unification
of the archaeological sites in the historical centre of Athens.
This project, under the joint auspices of the Ministry for the
Environment, Regional Planning and Public Works and the Ministry
of Culture, comprises a series of interventions aimed at rehabilitating
the historical, cultural, and natural environment around the Acropolis.
A network of paved walkways, some following ancient paths, is
intended to link the Olympieion (Temple of Zeus) to the ancient
cemetery of the Kerameikos via the New Acropolis Museum, the Sanctuary
and Theatre of Dionysos, the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, the Pnyx,
the Ancient Agora and, of course, the Acropolis, creating a museum-park
accessible to all. As the modern Athenian or visitor to Athens
walks along this route, he will experience the different phases
of the city's history, with the rock of the Acropolis and the
Parthenon in constant view, dominating all (see Appendix 6).
4.3 The conservation, preservation and research
programme of the Acropolis Monuments and the Parthenon
The monumental and ground-breaking restoration
and conservation programme begun on the Acropolis 25 years ago,
is carried out on the basis of studies which are submitted beforehand
for appraisal to the international scholarly community, through
conferences and publications. The current restoration of the Parthenon
aims primarily at its structural conservation, the conservation
of surfaces, the maximum protection of the existing sculptures,
the correct repositioning on the monument of pieces previously
restored, and the restoration of parts of the building with joining
pieces from those lying on the ground. Every intervention can
be reversed without any harm to the monument. The architectural
elements of the Parthenon in the British Museum (ie the column
capital and column drum) will be incorporated in the monument
upon their return (see Appendices 7 and 8).
In recent years intensive archaeological research
on the Acropolis in general and the Parthenon in particular, has
produced new evidence: numerous sculptural fragments belonging
to the Parthenon have been found, several figures have been restored
and fragments that join with the Parthenon Marbles in the British
Museum have also been identified. These remarkable results show
that the Acropolis is still an inexhaustible source of knowledge
for research (see Appendix 9).
4.4 The New Acropolis Museum
The New Acropolis Museum is a top priority for
the Greek state; it will be completed by 2004. It will house the
collections in the present Acropolis Museum, as well as the Parthenon
Marbles, those in Athens and those from the British Museum upon
their return to Athens. The New Acropolis Museum will be located
at the foot of the Acropolis, in physical and visual contact with
The systematic excavation of the museum site
has revealed large sectors of Roman and early Christian city of
Athens (first and seventh centuries AD), of considerable archaeological
and historical interest. These will be preserved in situ:
in fact they will be incorporated in the design of the new building.
In order to accommodate these discoveries, it was necessary to
modify the initial architectural brief. For this reason, the design
for the New Acropolis Museum will be selected by means of a closed
international competition with an international jury.
Visitors to the New Acropolis Museum will have
a unique experience not only of Classical but also of Roman, early
Christian and modern Athens. All the Parthenon Marbles will be
displayed in a special gallery. For the first time since their
dismantling, they will be presented as a unified ensemble in their
original sequence and correct relationships, and in visual contact
with the unique monument they once adorned. The existing museum
on the rock of the Acropolis and the New Acropolis Museum will
complement each other. The vistas from either atop the Acropolis
or from the New Acropolis Museum towards the rock of the Acropolis
will provide the visitors with a unique experience of the place.
4.5 Legal issues
The legality of acquisition of the Parthenon
Marbles by Lord Elgin is a controversial issue, not least because
of the dubious documentary evidence. The 1801 "firman"
does not survive, nor do the 1802 documents, which supposedly
ratified all previous illegalities. The only surviving text is
an Italian translation of the 1801 Turkish document, the validity
of which as a "firman" is questionable. Elgin's actions
by far exceeded the authority granted under the "firman",
which simply authorised his artists to enter the Acropolis, to
draw and to make moulds for casts. Moreover, Elgin and his agents
are alleged to have threatened and bribed Ottoman officials not
to interfere with their activities. The mere accomplishment of
the removal of the Marbles from Greece, which was at the time
under Ottoman occupation, without final hindrance from the Turkish
authorities is not proof ipso facto of legal title. Indeed,
it is notable that the Select Committee of the House of Commons
in 1816 was little concerned with the issue of the illegality
of acquisition of the Marbles by Lord Elgin per se.
The Parthenon is acknowledged universally not
only as a unique monument in the history of architecture but also
as the epitome of the contribution of the Greek spirit to the
cultural heritage of mankind. The monument's uniqueness and the
need to restore the unity of its sculptures make the return of
the Parthenon Marbles housed in the British Museum imperative.
At the beginning of the twenty first century notions of historic
preservation, protection, and interpretation of the world's cultural
heritage have drastically changed. Viewed in this framework, the
Parthenon, a monument of universal significance, can no longer
remain dismembered. The reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
in Athens, the city in which they were created, will ensure their
reintegration in their historical, topographic, and cultural context,
and will contribute to their fuller understanding and interpretation.
On their return to Athens the Parthenon Sculptures
will be housed in the New Acropolis Museum in the very heart of
their birthplace, Classical Athens. A great part of this "heart"
survives intact on the rock of the Acropolis itself, as well as
its environs; it will be accessible to all when the project for
the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens is completed
in 2002. The Cultural Olympiad, as well as the 2004 Olympic Games
in Athens present both Greece and the United Kingdom with wide-ranging
opportunities for fruitful co-operation in the field of culture.
In this context, the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles will
be a unique opportunity for strong partnership and collaboration.
The Government of the Hellenic Republic is pleased
that through the Select Committee's inquiry discussions on the
return of the Parthenon Marbles can begin between the interested
parties. We believe that, in the light of the evidence presented
in the memorandum, the Select Committee will recommend to the
House of Commons that appropriate measures be taken to secure
the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens in due course.
The time is ripe for reuniting the Parthenon Marbles in their
original home. Their return will redress the cultural and moral
injustice of their enforced exile. We are confident that the United
Kingdom will demonstrate its willingness to address this important
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