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Struggle For The Elgin Marbles

  • July 7th, 2012
  • Posted by EUEditor

parthenon-lo-shot.jpgAt least in their hundreds-of-thousands, people from across the world visit the Acropolis Museum in Athens every year.

One of them this Summer, was Anna Fleetwood, for EUAustralia Online.

Visitors see more than 4500 marbles, friezes and artefacts, which once decorated the Parthenon, the temple atop the Acropolis. What they will not see, however, are 60% of the surviving Parthenon marbles which are today a centerpiece of London’s British Museum.

The Elgin marbles, as they are known, were sold to the Museum at the turn of the 18th Century by the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Thomas Bruce the Seventh Earl of Elgin. Lord Elgin obtained a firman from the Empire, that is an Ottoman legal document, granting him authority to remove the marbles from the ancient site.

The Curator at the museum’s opening, Alexandros Mantis, would say the building is the home befitting the masterpieces from the Parthenon, that Athenians had been waiting for, for more than 40 years.

But still the Elgin Marbles remain absent from the Parthenon gallery on the third-floor of the Museum. Here a video documentary tells visitors Lord Elgin was the worst in a series of violent looters, who pillaged the beauty of the divine temple. Replica castes line the perimeter of the gallery, and bear the annotation of ‘BM’, denoting that the originals are in the possession of the British Museum.

Upon the marbles’ arrival in Britain more than 200 hundred years ago, the morality of Lord Elgin’s actions were strongly debated in the British Parliament.

He argued that during a time of occupation and systematic pillaging, the removal of the artefacts was in the best interests of their preservation.

Today that argument is considered untenable and the authenticity and scope of surviving legal documentation is disputed.

The topic remains one of heightened passions for the Greek people, one Athenian woman saying, “they should come back to Greece, to Athens, to the Museum of Acropolis…Of course they are safe…We have a perfect place to keep them now…We are generally very proud of our heritage and we are proud also of the museum”.

British sentiment seems to be shifting. Earlier this month viewers voted on the outcome of the BBC “Intelligence Squared” debate, emphatically siding with those arguing to return the marbles to their historical and cultural home.

Greek-Australian Jiannis Tsaousis says:  “Denying Greece of such a cultural right would be to deny Greece’s growth and development as a country from the 1800s; the positions of…the audience of the debate prove that Britons have progressed. Surely the British Museum can reflect its own people’s development from its colonialist era of an ambassador prizing chiselled marbles from a once-occupied and oppressed cradle of democracy.”

The statues and friezes of the Parthenon tell the story of struggle. It is to these icons the Greek people have looked for support and inspiration in times of difficulty, over thousands of years.

As they face economic pressures, and an uncertain future in the Eurozone, the absence of the Elgin marbles is being keenly felt.