Last week, Greece intensified its calls for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the United Kingdom. Just weeks before those works are set to go back on view at London’s British Museum, Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, demanded that officials in the U.K. become more receptive to the possibility of restitution.
“The U.K. should move to a bona fide dialogue with Greece, and I urge them to do so,” Mitsotakis said at a speech in Paris. Reuters reported that Mitsotakis called the Parthenon Marbles “stolen.”
In 1801, the Parthenon Marbles were taken from the Acropolis in Athens by the Scottish nobleman Lord Elgin. Fifteen years later, in 1816, they were sold for £35,000 (about £3.6 million now) to the British Museum, where they reside today.
The friezes—which are sometimes referred to as the Elgin Marbles—are now at the center of one of the world’s most hotly debated restitution cases. Activists, cultural organizations, and Greek politicians have repeatedly argued that the marbles belong to Greece and should therefore be sent back. In October, UNESCO urged the U.K. to begin discussing the return. The U.K. rebuffed that recommendation.
The British Museum has repeatedly argued that it should retain the right to exhibit the Parthenon Marbles. In a statement on its website, the museum’s trustees say that the marbles “convey huge public benefit as part of the Museum’s worldwide collection.” That statement goes on to claim that reuniting the marbles with the ruins of the Acropolis “isn’t possible” because they “could never be safely returned to the building: they’re best seen and conserved in museums.”
At his speech in Paris, Mitsotakis reaffirmed his stance that the Parthenon Marbles belonged in Greece, saying, “It is essential that the Parthenon marbles in London should be reunited with the majority of the Parthenon sculptures in Athens.”