Saturday, October 20, 2007
When, not if, the marbles return...
A crane transferring a crate of antiquities from the old to the new Acropolis Museum.
The Acropolis is “missing the Marbles,” was the headline of a story in the Christian Science Monitor by Nicole Itano, in a report on the beginning of a large-scale operation last week to move tons of antiquities from the Acropolis to the new museum at its foot. At 9 a.m. sharp last Sunday, a 2.3-ton marble sculpture was the first of 4,500 works of art that will be moved over the next three months. The new museum, however, will be better known for what is missing from it rather than for what it contains. For when it opens to the public next year, the celebrated Parthenon Marbles, also known as the “Elgin Marbles” after the British member of the nobility who made off with them in the 19th century, will still be missing. Nearly 200 years later, the British Museum still has about half of the extant Parthenon sculptures. Greece hopes that the new museum will put more pressure on London to return them. The latest battle to have the marbles returned dates back to 1982, when the then culture minister, actress Melina Mercouri, speaking at a UN conference, called for their return. The Christian Science Monitor quoted Anthony Snodgrass, a retired professor of classical archaeology at Cambridge University and chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. “One of the arguments in the past that was always used was, if only Athens had a proper exhibition space for the marbles and if only the Greeks showed themselves able to look after and exhibit the marbles satisfactorily, it would be a different matter,”... “Now everybody will be able to see for themselves what is being perpetuated by keeping the two halves of the marbles apart. And this will be graphically displayed in the new museum.” The US-based Swiss architect who designed the museum, Bernard Tschumi, said the missing marbles were “central to his design.” As for the British Museum, its spokesperson Hannah Boulton, told the newspaper that “the very purpose of the British Museum is to present a unique overview of world civilization, and the Parthenon Marbles are an integral part of that.” Germany’s Deutsche Welle press review, and Austria’s daily Die Presse both carried extensive reports on the importance of the new museum. It is clear that Greece is not alone in seeking the return of its cultural treasures. Meanwhile, Jules Dassin, the president and soul of the Melina Mercouri Foundation, which was instrumental in realizing the new museum, said nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.