Athens, Greece (Associated Press)-It is only the size of a shoe box and is carved with the broken foot of an ancient Greek goddess.
But Greece hopes the 2,500-year-old marble shard, on loan from an Italian museum on Monday, will help resolve one of the world’s toughest cultural heritage disputes and lead to the reunification of all surviving Parthenon sculptures in Athens – Many of them are in the British Museum.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the Sicilian museum’s move “I believe opens the way for other museums to develop in a similar direction”.
“The most important thing, of course, is the British Museum, which must now realise that it is time for the Parthenon marbles… finally to come back here, to their natural home,” he added, referring to the Italian loan grateful.
The fragment is part of a 160-meter-long (520-foot) frieze that surrounds the outer walls of the Parthenon on the Acropolis and is dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Much was lost to bombing in the 17th century, and about half of the remaining works were demolished by the British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century. They ended up in the British Museum, which has repeatedly rejected Greek demands for their return.
Officially, the Archaeological Museum of A. Salinas in Sicily only lent the feet of the goddess of hunting Artemis to Greece for a maximum of eight years. But Italian and Greek officials stated that the ultimate goal is to “return to Athens indefinitely.” In exchange, Greece will lend a large amount of cultural relics to Italy.
“The solution we have found proves that there can be a mutually acceptable solution, as long as the museums and cultural authorities of both countries have the will,” Mitsotakis said at a ceremony at the Acropolis Museum, Greece’s surviving frieze The plate is partially inserted in the Acropolis Museum. among the actors in London.
Artemis’ foot would snuggle like a missing piece of the puzzle between the two original fragments and a larger copy now in London.
Successive Greek governments have lobbied the British Museum to return these works, including the statue on the gable of the Parthenon-the gable of an all-marble building. They argued that Elgin saw off the sculptures illegally, exceeding the terms of the dubious license issued by the Turkish authorities, and that Greece was a reluctant part of the Ottoman Empire.
The British Museum has rejected this position and, despite signs that British public opinion is leaning towards Greek needs, has shown no intention of returning the works permanently.
Mitsotakis raised the matter again in November when he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London. He said on Monday he was “encouraged” by Johnson that the British government would not oppose a potential deal for the return of the sculptures if the British Museum and Greece reached an agreement.
The Italian fragment, measuring 31 x 35 cm (12 x 14 in), was acquired under unknown circumstances by Robert Fagan, the British consul in Sicily in the 19th century, whose widow sold it to the predecessor of the Sicilian Museum.
Dimitris Pantermalis, director of the Acropolis Museum, said the marble foot may have been removed from its position in 1687 when mortars fired by the besieging Venetian army hit the Parthenon, and the Turkish garrison on the Acropolis put the The Tenon Temple was used as a gunpowder store. But, he said, it was in better condition than the other surviving fascia fragments.
“In all other cases, the surface was slightly scratched,” he said. “There’s the freshness of the original here, which makes us proud.”
Built in 447-432 BC, the Parthenon is considered the supreme masterpiece of classical architecture. Although used successively as a church and then a mosque, it survived almost intact until the Venetian siege.
The frieze depicts a procession in honor of Athena. Small parts of it – along with other Parthenon sculptures – are in other European museums.