ITALY RETURNS LONG LOST PARTHENON FRAGMENT TO GREECE

Italy has returned to Greece the 'Palermo fragment', a marble piece of the Athens Parthenon missing for nearly 200 years, officials said Tuesday.

The sculpted fragment of the ancient Greek hunt goddess Artemis, part of the eastern Parthenon frieze depicting the twelve gods of Olympus, had been in the collection of the Antonio Salinas Archaeological Museum of Palermo.

Greece had sought to secure its return for 13 years, the Greek culture minister said.

The fragment depicts the goddess' right foot and part of her long robe.

"For the first time in nearly two centuries, a valuable fragment of the Parthenon's sculpted decoration returns to be embodied where it belongs," Culture Minister Michalis Liapis told reporters.

The fragment was brought back on loan by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who is on an official visit to Greece, and will be restored to the frieze on Wednesday.

It had been removed by Lord Elgin, the 19th century British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire occupying Greece at the time, and given to the British consul-general of Sicily in 1816, Napolitano's cultural advisor Louis Godart told reporters.

Elgin also took to Britain a large collection of sculptures from the iconic 5th BCE temple known as the Parthenon Marbles which Greece has campaigned to have returned from the British Museum in London for decades.

"Greece aspires to bring back the Parthenon Marbles, so you can understand the contribution and importance of such a gesture," Greek President Karolos Papoulias told reporters after meeting with Napolitano.

The British Museum has long refused to repatriate the friezes but the Greeks have lately had more success in securing claims from other museums and collections, including the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Shelby White collection in New York.

A number of these items are part of a landmark exhibit of over 70 Greek and Italian antiquities reclaimed from foreign museums and collections in recent years which Napolitano will inaugurate on Wednesday.

"This is the first time these antiquities are seen abroad after going on display at the Quirinale Palace (last year)," Godart said.

Two more Parthenon fragments held by the Vatican will return to Greece on October 8, he added.

The joint exhibit at the New Acropolis Museum runs to December 31.