Greece would not accept a short loan of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum as it would "legalise their snatching", the Culture Minister said.

Antonis Samaras said any loan would mean renouncing Greece's claim to the 2,500-year-old sculptures.

The Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, have been in London since they were sold to the museum in 1817.

Greece hopes one day to display the collection in the Acropolis Museum, which opens in Athens next weekend.

The Marbles originally decorated the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis of Athens.

Hundreds of sculptures were removed from the Parthenon in 1801-2 on the orders of British aristocrat Lord Elgin, who later sold them to British Museum.

The museum holds 75 metres of the original 160 metres of the frieze that ran round the inner core of the building.

Of the surviving items some 90 are in London and 97 in Athens. In many cases, part of a figure is in London, and part in Athens.

Copies of those held in London have been made for the new Acropolis museum


"The government, as any other Greek government would have done in its place, is obliged to turn down the offer," Mr Samaras said, in a statement.

"This is because accepting it would legalise the snatching of the Marbles and the monument's carving-up 207 years ago."

He added that he was prepared to discuss lending Greek antiquities to the British Museum "to fill the gap left when the (Parthenon) Marbles finally return to the place they belong".

Mr Samaras was responding to comments made by British Museum spokeswoman, Hannah Boulton, on Greek radio.

She said under existing British Museum policy the museum would consider loan requests by any foreign government, including Greece.

But all requests would be considered on a case-to-case basis, taking many factors into consideration, including fitness of the item or items to travel.

Greece would also have to recognise the museum's ownership rights to the sculptures, which is a loan condition.

Ms Boulton told the BBC that the British Museum had not received a request from Greece, nor had it offered the marbles for loan.