Europe

Vatican returns Parthenon fragments to Greece

Greece has welcomed the return of ancient artefacts from the Acropolis, furthering a campaign to press the British Museum to hand back a collection of sculptures taken from the ancient site in Athens more than 200 years ago.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni led a ceremony Friday for the repatriation of three sculpture fragments – representing a horse and two male heads – from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis which had been kept at the Vatican Museums.

The fragments will be added to the collection at the Acropolis Museum.

Renewed pressure on British Museum

The Vatican called the return an ecumenical “donation” to Greece’s Orthodox Church, but the gesture added pressure on the UK to reach a settlement with Greece following a long-running campaign launched by Athens 40 years ago.

The Culture Minister said Greece would be willing to lend the British Museum ancient Greek artefacts for exhibition to “fill the gap” if it returned the collection known as the Elgin Marbles.

Carved in the 5th century BC, the sculptures from the Parthenon were taken in the early 19th century by British diplomat Lord Elgin before Greece won independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Greece argues that the Parthenon sculptures are at the core of its ancient heritage, while supporters of the British Museum maintain that their return could undermine museum collections and cultural diversity globally.

Culture Ministry officials in Greece have played down remarks made last month by British Museum chair George Osborne that the UK and Greece were working on an arrangement to display the Parthenon Marbles in both London and Athens.

Last year another marble sculptural fragment from the Parthenon temple – depicting a foot of the ancient Greek goddess Artemis – was returned to Athens from a museum in Palermo, Sicily.

Bishop Brian Farrell, a Vatican secretary for promoting Christian unity, headed the visiting delegation to Athens and said the return of the three fragments from the Vatican had been discussed during a visit to Athens by Pope Francis in 2021.

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