ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece said on Monday momentum was growing for the return of the prized Parthenon marbles, taken from the Athens Acropolis some 200 years ago by Britain’s Lord Elgin, as major museums handed back more ancient objects.
Museums around the world have in recent years started returning ancient artifacts to their countries of origin and have tightened checks on acquisitions to avoid buying objects that were illegally excavated or smuggled abroad.
“More and more museums are adopting tighter ethics codes and governments promote bilateral and international cooperation (for the return of ancient objects),” Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis told an international conference at the new Acropolis Museum.
“So an ideal momentum is being created ... for clear solutions on this issue,” he said.
The trend towards returning artifacts was strengthened by the high-profile affair involving former J. Paul Getty Museum curator Marion True and smuggled artifacts that were acquired by the museum.
Italy dropped a legal case against the Getty Museum last year after the institution agreed to return 40 items Rome believed had been stolen and smuggled out of the country, and the Getty has returned several such items to Greece.
Both Italy and Greece have charged True with offences linked to trafficking in antiquities. She denies any wrongdoing.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum has returned a prized 2,500-year-old vase to Italy, which recently displayed nearly 400 looted ancient objects that have been recovered in the past three years.
The Parthenon marble friezes and sculptures were removed from the Acropolis above Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, with permission from the Ottoman Empire officials then in power.
Lord Elgin acquired his collection between 1801 and 1810. It was bought by the British Museum in 1816 and has been a major attraction there since. The museum refuses to return them to Greece on the ground that its statutes do not allow it to do so.
Liapis told the conference “This museum is ready to embrace all important artifacts taken from the holy rock (the Acropolis) and I hope the same goes for the foreign-based Parthenon marbles... so the unity of the sculptures can be restored.”
Britain said for many years that the marbles were better preserved in London than in Athens’ polluted air. Greece has said this argument is now obsolete given the completion of the new museum, where an empty gallery awaits the Parthenon marbles.
Editing by Tim Pearce