'Time to close' Parthenon marbles row: Acropolis museum director

Visitors in front of the Parthenon Temple in Athens on April 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS (AFP) - The new director of the Acropolis Museum has called for an end to the long-running dispute for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece, noting that London's Parliament could rule on the issue.

"It's time for the matter to be closed," Professor Nikos Stampolidis told AFP in an interview.

"We are not talking about just any work of art far from its place of origin, (but of) part of an architectural monument that is a symbol of global culture," he said.

"An act of the English Parliament would be enough to return the friezes to Greece," he said, referring to the British Parliament in Westminster.

The Parthenon temple was built in the 5th century BCE on the Acropolis to honour Athena, the patron goddess of Athens.

In the early 1800s, workmen stripped entire friezes from the monument on the orders of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin.

Lord Elgin sold the marbles to the British government, which in 1817 passed them on to the British Museum, where they remain one of its most prized exhibits.

Athens insists the sculptures were stolen.

But successive Greek governments and officials - including the late Melina Mercouri, the celebrated actress who also served as culture minister - have failed to make headway in the dispute.

'Legally acquired'

In March 2021, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Greek daily Ta Nea that he understood the "strength of feeling of the Greek people" on the issue.

But repeating Britain's longstanding position, he insisted that the sculptures "were legally acquired by Lord Elgin, in accordance with the laws in force at the time".

Last November, after a visit to London for talks with Mr Johnson, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece could loan the British Museum other "iconic artefacts" in return for the marbles.

He also insisted that Athens would not be emboldened to ask for the return of additional items.

"We believe the marbles are a special case, a one-off," Mr Mitsotakis said.

Visitors in the Parthenon gallery of the Acropolis museum in Athens, on April 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

The Acropolis museum is "the one place on earth where you can properly admire the marbles in context, as you stand in front of 2,500 years of history and look across the panoramic vista towards the temple above", Mr Mitsotakis wrote in the Daily Mail in November.

In January, the Times, a staunch supporter of the British Museum on the issue, changed its position.

"Time and circumstances are changing. The sculptures belong in Athens. They must now return there," the daily said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.