Welcome to the site of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. These pages contain detailed information on the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles, together with the case for their return to Athens, Greece. If you would like to find out about the various ways to get involved with the campaign, or simply to learn more about the subject, then please read on.
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Greeks hold candlelight vigil for the Parthenon marbles
The Parthenon Gallery in the Acropolis Museum, is the one place on earth where it is possible to have a single and aesthetic experience simultaneously of the Parthenon and its sculptures.
It is not a matter of who owns them, it is a matter of where they should be.
Vigil held on Sunday 18 January 2015, at the Acropolis Museum is one of many more to come.
Eddie O'Hara, Chairman for the British Committee adds "the case for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures rests on the fact that those in the British Museum are part of an artistic unity with those in the Acropolis Museum and together they are part of a unity with the Parthenon. Separated, their artistic integrity is impaired."
Never Again (Back to Athens), song by Sarah Fenwick and Marinos Neofytou dedicated to the sculptures from the Parthenon
The song 'Never Again' was composed by Cypriot guitarist Marinos Neofytou and goes to the roots of ethnic jazz. Inspired by the Greek-sounding melody, jazz singer Sarah Fenwick wrote lyrics about reuniting the beautiful Parthenon Marbles in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, from where they were taken by Lord Elgin in the 19th Century.
Sarah and Marinos were moved by the plight of these marbles. Sarah commented " these marbles considered a work of art belonging to ancient Greek civilisation, and as such, their sad separation from the warmth of Greece is a long-running theme in the art world."
The song is part of the duet's new CD 'Jazz Origins', which seeks to show the various and diverse roots of jazz, with original songs from the Blues, Ethnic, Latin, and Lullaby traditions, which form the great foundations of this amazing music genre.
"Inspiring the song was a suggestion from campaigners at the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parrthenon Marbles, whose work on behalf of the cause of reuniting the Parthenon Marbles has brought life to the possibility that they will be returned to Greece" added Sarah Fenwick.
You can listen to 'Never Again' on you tube.
The sculptures’ seizure remains a disgraceful chapter in our history.
16 December 2014
Letters page Evening Standard
Lord Elgin did not save the marbles
It is the height of disingenuousness for the British Museum’s Neil MacGregor to claim that Lord Elgin “rescued” the Parthenon sculptures for the sake of art (December 12). There is convincing evidence in Elgin’s correspondence that he sought to place them in his own home, only agreeing to their sale to the government as security on a bad debt.
Contrary to his claims, he had no authorisation to hack the sculptures from the Parthenon. Even contemporary British accounts criticised his actions as “the most flagrant acts of spoliation”. The sculptures’ seizure remains a disgraceful chapter in our history.
Why has the British Museum loan of Ilissos to Russia's Hermitage Museum caused a stir?
The river god Ilissos has been loaned by the British Museum to St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum, Russia and will be on display there until mid-January 2015 before returning to London
So the British Museum "under a cloak of secrecy both for security and to ensure maximum impact" has lent a pedimental sculpture from the Parthenon to the Hermitage. Could we suggest a third reason? To delay and manage the predictable surge of outrage which this action has caused not only in Greece, of course, but in many countries around the world where groups campaign for the reunification of the sculptures of the Parthenon, not least here in Britain where opinion poll after opinion poll returns a substantial majority in support. The sculpture was transported by air and not by the more obvious means of road transport, perhaps to avoid formal or informal intervention en route. However the British Museum may well find that it has shot itself in the foot. Its action will widely be construed as at best insensitive and at worst frankly provocative and give a fresh stimulus to the campaign for the reunification of the sculptures of the Parthenon.
The accompanying news management by the British Museum scales new heights of disingenuousness. Lord Elgin did not "rescue" the sculptures. He collected them. His original purpose was not to introduce the British public to the wonders of Greek art. It was to decorate his home in far northeast Scotland, where precious few of the British public would have had the chance to see them. By cutting them from the building he was not setting an example followed by the later Greek Government. It was mutilation. It never occurred to anyone to demount the sculptures until the advent of industrial pollution and acid rain. Their "reputation as art rather than decoration" was not "forged in London". They were art from the moment of their creation. They were never mere decoration. They were integral elements of a building which was itself a work of art.
The 7th Lord Elgin
The cultural warming of "chilled" relations with Russia is at the expense of a bonfire of relations with Greece and public relations in other countries and closer to home. The display of the Cyrus cylinder in Iran is not a good comparison. Are there no Russian treasures in the museum's collection which they could have loaned? Why a Greek treasure which they will not allow into Greece?
It is not true that they would loan to the Greeks but they would refuse a loan on grounds of disputed ownership. In 2002 they refused a request from culture minister Venizelos for a loan, and in 1995 culture minister Pangalos said, "Let's put aside arguments about ownership and talk about where the sculptures should be". It is not only for "more than 40 years" that Greece has requested their return. Published documents exist to show that the demand has been constant from the very inception of the Greek State as a legal entity.
Then what about the statistical conjuring trick of saying that 30 per cent of the 30 per cent that has been lost is in other museums. That sounds a lot until you realise that that is 9 per cent. And even that is an exaggeration when you add up one metope and one slab of maybe a metre of frieze in the Louvre and a few small fragments elsewhere. But perhaps the most egregious example is the way in which the funeral oration of Pericles is traduced. Yes, Pericles did say that the whole world is a monument to those who die in war. It was his equivalent of our "age shall not wither them..." Intoned annually at memorial services. It stretches his meaning too far to transfer this to the sculptures as ambassadors of Athens in foreign lands. In fact Pericles in the same oration refers to "mighty monuments of our power which will make us wonder of this and succeeding generations." He did not need to point. His audience would almost certainly have looked across the Acropolis, crowned with the Parthenon. The Parthenonis still there. It does indeed immortalise Periclean Athens. Half (to be precise, just under half) of its surviving sculpted elements are there. Just over half in London. Surely the onus of justification is on NOT bringing them all together, and Athens is the only place where that can happen.
The Parthenon Gallery in the Acropolis Museum, the one place on earth where it is possible to have a single and aesthetic experience simultaneously of the Parthenon and its sculptures
Let us be clear: the case for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures rests on the fact that those in the British Museum are part of an artistic unity with those in the Acropolis Museum and together they are part of a unity with the Parthenon. Separated, their artistic integrity is impaired. In some cases single sculptures are separated thus.
It is not a matter of who owns them, it is a matter of where they should be. Indeed argument about ownership is a diversion and distraction from the cultural arguments on which this matter should properly be resolved.
The sculptures of the Parthenon do not need the British Museum to demonstrate their quality and importance. No more does the British Museum need the Parthenon sculptures to prove its excellence. Sure they enhance it. But in essence they are essentially exemplars to illustrate its cross cultural narrative, chosen because of their existence in the museum's collection as a result of an accident of history - the divorce do the 7th Lord Elgin which bankrupted him and forced him to sell his collection to the government in a fire sale.
Q & A with Eddie O'Hara
Q: WHY, AS BRITISH CAMPAIGNERS, ARE YOU FOR THE RETURN OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES TO GREECE?
A: The issue of the reunification of these sculptures is a a matter of universal concern. We as British campaigners have a particular responsibility in this as it is a British museum, which holds half of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon.
We also have a particular responsibility to convince the British press, public and politicians of the need to reunify them with their counterparts in Athens.
We have had much success in persuading the British public, as indicated by numerous opinion polls, and also professional opinion, as demonstrated by a 2012 poll in the Museums Journal showing a majority of 73% in favour of reunification, but less so with politicians and the cultural establishment.
Much of our campaigning is focused on informing and educating a critical mass of the general public which could not be ignored by elected politicians and the cultural establishment.
Q: IS THE MODERN GREEK STATE THE LEGITIMATE OWNER OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES.
A:Legal title to the ownership of these sculptures is extremely difficult to establish conclusively.
It is well documented that The British Government purchased the sculptures legally from Lord Elgin.
However Lord Elgin acquired the sculptures in questionable circumstances, the evidence for which is difficult to determine in full detail. There is much evidence that he exceeded what he had been given authority to remove by the Ottoman authorities.
The Ottoman state could be argued to have had legal title at the time of Elgin's acquisition; but the modern Turkish state is a different entity.
The Greek national state did not exist at the time of Elgin's acquisition of the sculptures and had never existed before that.
The only entity that could be argued to have had undisputed legal title was the demos of ancient Athens, but that did not survive antiquity.
Then there have to be taken into account differences of property ownership across time and countries, including the British Museum Act 1963.
But anyway, this should be seen not as a legal but essentially as a cultural issue. The sculptures belong to the Parthenon.
Q: IS THE BRITISH MUSEUM'S REFUSAL TO RETURN THE MARBLES LEGITIMATE.
A: Over the years the British Museum has advanced a number of arguments which have been described as "historical curiosities discredited variously as inconsequential, disingenuous, debatable, statistically dubious or just plain wrong" (E O'Hara, Museums Journal, 112/06, 01/06/2012).
The one that continues to have specious public resonance is the "floodgates" argument - that to concede to the demand for the return of these sculptures would set a precedent leading to a flood of similar requests which would, if conceded, denude the galleries of the great museums.
This argument is incidentally close to an admission that much of the cultural property in the great museums is of questionable provenance. It is also overstated. The great museums have on permanent display a mere fraction, perhaps 20%, of the property in their collections. Also, not every demand would be of equal merit and each would be considered on its merits.
But anyway, the "floodgates" argument does not apply to the Parthenon Marbles. They are probably uniques in being integral elements of a fixed monument which is a UNESCO world heritage site, sawn off and divided for display, mainly in museums 2,000 miles apart. Thus their reunification would set no precedent.
The British Museum has recently rested its case on its status as a "universal" museum which transcends national cultural boundaries and presents the sculptures in a global context, unlike the "parochial" Acropolis Museum.
The status of "universal" museum is self serving and self designated by the Bizot Group of major museums. It is by no means universally accepted. There is evidence that most visitors do not seek or make the claimed cultural crossconnections. Rather they treat the collections as a smorgasbord of disparate delicacies.
Thus in essence the Parthenon Marbles are at best exemplars in the British Museum's collection and at worst trophies. Whichever way, their presence is essentially elective.
The Acropolis Museum makes no pretensions to being " universal" museum. It is focused on providing a comprehensive and holistic narrative of the Acropolis and is associated monuments. The role of the Parthenon Marbles in this narrative is not elective but integral and essential. This arguably gives the Acropolis Museum greater entitlement than the British Museum to the inclusion of the Parthenon Marbles in its display.
Q: COULD GREECE USE ANY LEGAL MEANS IN THE INTERNATIONAL/EUROPEAN LAW SYSTEM ....... TO RECLAIM THE PARTHENON MARBLES.
A: Greece is currently pursuing the matter through the UNESCO mediation process. An approach has been made to the British Government which has said it will respond in due course. However the issue has been on the agenda of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Promotion of the return of Cultural Property since 1987.
Also the Swiss Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is currently pursuing a number of initiatives through the processes of the European Union.
However it is notoriously difficult to secure a judgement from an international organisation such as these against one of its members.
Q: IS THE MARBLES ISSUE A CULTURAL PROBLEM OR ONE OF MODERN NATIONALISM?
A: It is certainly a matter of visceral concern to the Greek people.
This is sometimes misrepresented and criticised as nationalism, a political concept of dubious pedigree.
In fact it is rather a matter of ethnicity: the Greek state and people regard the Parthenon as an iconic symbol of their ethnic identity. This is a cultural concept.
According to the Faro Convention (2005) an identified cultural group have a human right to the enjoyment of their cultural heritage.
An Affair without Ending: The Parthenon and its Sculptures
Antonia Georgiadou (MA Tourism Management, University of Westminster)
As a matter of fact, life appears to unfold through a series of events, which involve rituals and movements with a certain purpose and way of conduct, and depend on space and time to acquire meaning and fill us with memories. Travelling as an event during one’s lifetime encapsulates by definition the need to escape, explore, learn and remember…something different, unique and original. What is more, it said that the more intense the emotions of the traveller, the more genuine their experience.
My MA thesis entitled “Exploring Authenticity in Heritage Tourism: The Dialectic Between the Visitor, the Setting and the Experience at the New Acropolis Museum and at the British Museum” has aspired to foster the legitimacy of the New Acropolis Musem as the first better home to accommodate the artefacts from the Acropolis, predominately the Parthenon Sculptures. It took me precisely two (2) weeks to compile 100 questionnaires answered by visitors to the New Acropolis Museum, last June, whereas I barely managed to gather 50 at the British Museum carrying out my survey for another two (2) weeks, the following July. Of course, I still remain convinced that would I have been granted permission to just enter the British Museum courtyard-which I only found out later that constitutes “public space”-the target of the 100 samples would have been more surely reached. For this reason, I find it more appropriate to limit the discussion to the results of the first on-site survey, discarding the others for the sake of authenticity, which is what the whole research has sought for, after all.
About a year ago (summer 2013), people from 31 different countries aged between 18-69 years-old, 42 men and 57 women, were asked to fill in a questionnaire about their experience at the New Acropolis Museum on the day of their visit. Surprisingly, it occurred that more than half of them (i.e. 65 out of 100) had also visited the Parthenon (Duveen) Gallery at the British Museum. Their responses are quite enlightening. Most of them motivated purely by personal interest thought of the museum overall atmosphere as quite positive and lively during their tour, while they were also pleased with the exhibition design, particularly the ease of circulation, signage/directions, info on exhibits, position of artefacts, lighting, meaningful interconnection of the collection. According to their answers, the most helpful tools to comprehend the meaning of the exhibition were their own perception and individual interpretation, the labels as well as the atmosphere, in general.
Drawing on the psychological and socio-cultural aspect of the museum experience, it becomes evident that the visitor experience at the New Acropolis Museum showcases three (3) main affective states towards the exhibits: respect (72%), admiration (65%) and reflection (38%). On the other hand, guests upon their exit from the museum building admitted to have felt “satisfaction” (57%) followed by an equal share of “introspection” (24%), “pride” (23%), and “nostalgia” (22%). Last but not least, 78/100 visitors answered that the “location of the museum enhanced [their] experience” while 70/100 agreed that “the surrounding environment supports the character of the museum”. Finally, at the end of the questionnaire, interviewees were given room to provide freely their own feedback-either positive or negative-about their visit. The whole survey had no intention whatsoever to touch upon or challenge people’s opinion on the return of the so-called Elgin Marbles.
Returning the Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum to the New Acropolis Museum had always been a subject for high culture discourse on the part of the elite, but also a communal vision of national identity for the Greek society. Decades of political confrontations and diplomatic negotiations have gone by without having achieved the desired effect yet. Personally, I have come to believe that the case is hardly ever going to be resolved. Paraphrasing the words of Melina Mercouri, I would advise that before arguing for their return we should all try to understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to the rest of world, to each and every tourist who visits the Acropolis-not just the New Museum. Thus, it should not be all about having them back, but, instead, it should all be about ensuring that they are being taken good care of so as to be able to instil into their viewers the same sentiments and sensibility, until the day of them coming home…
Greek Ministry of Culture:Resolution 18GA 2014/40 passed at ICOMOS General Assembly in Florence, Italy
Greek Ministry of Culture:Resolution 18GA 2014/40 passed at ICOMOS General Assembly in Florence, Italy, 14 November 2014
DRAFT RESOLUTIONS – ICOMOS 2014
Dr. ATHANASIOS NAKASIS
PRESIDENT ICOMOS GREECE
Dr. ELENA KORKA
ICOMOS GREECE – International Issues
General Director of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage
Hellenic Ministry of Culture
BACKGROUND INFORMATION AND JUSTIFICATION:
In the 19th century Lord Elgin removed integral architectural sculptures from the frieze, the metopes and the pediments from the Parthenon. The Parthenon Marbles that are on display at the British Museum make up approximately 60% of the total remaining sculptural material of the monument. The need for their reunification with the other 40%, now exhibited in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, is a cultural desideratum. It will be to the benefit of every visitor (scholar or not), who seeks to view the Parthenon and its historical environment. The issue of the Parthenon Marbles is continuously on the agenda of the Committee for the Promotion of the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin (ICPRCP) since 1984. Twenty two (22) Committees all over the world were founded in support of the reunification, while polls carried out through the years, show the high public interest on the issue.
For many years Greece has requested from the British Government on various occasions and on a consistent basis the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles on the basis of collaboration and good will. This is probably the most famous and longstanding request of cultural heritage ever. It concerns this most exquisite monument of classical Athens and the most representative manifestation of the classical spirit.
At a meeting held between the Greek Minister of Culture and Sports and the Director General of UNESCO, in July 2013, the former asked UNESCO for its good offices, in order for Greece and the UK to enter into mediation for the issue of the Parthenon Marbles. UNESCO sent a letter to the Secretary of State of the U.K., Mr. William Hague, the Secretary of Culture, Ms Maria Miller and the Director of the British Museum, Mr. Neil MacGregor, informing them of Greece’s request that UNESCO examine the possibility of resorting to the process of mediation as foreseen by the relevant bylaws of the Organization, in order to reach an amicable solution concerning the Parthenon Marbles.
Moreover, on 1st and 2nd October representatives of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports met within the context of the Unesco Intergovernmental Committee for the Promotion of the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin (ICPRCP) with representatives of the British Government in order to discuss the Parthenon Marbles issue. The main point of the bilateral discussions this time was the lack of reaction of the UK to the invitation sent in August 2013 by UNESCO in regard to the mediation with Greece on the Parthenon Marbles issue.
The meeting resulted in a consensus, adopted by the Committee. The Recommendation invites Britain to consider the proposal for mediation.
In this framework UNESCO will use its good offices in order to facilitate further meetings between the two sides.
It is the first time that Member States of Unesco are invited to mediation since these rules have only been adopted in 2010.
The Rules of Procedure for Mediation and Conciliation are conceived under the general principles of equity, impartiality and good faith, which are intended to promote harmonious and fair resolution for disputes concerning the restitution of cultural property. Each State is invited to nominate and submit to the Secretariat the names of two individuals who may serve as mediators and conciliators. Their qualification is contingent on their competency and mastery in matters of restitution, resolution dispute and other specific characteristics of the protection of cultural property.
The rules of procedure are meant to be complementary to the work of the Intergovernmental Committee. It is noted that the text adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee represents a legal tool that does not constitute a binding normative obligation.
Regarding the above, the National Committee of ICOMOS Hellenic, deems it necessary to request the approval of the following proposal regarding the Greek request for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in order, for the integrity of the monument, to be restored in its historic, cultural and natural environment:
1. Use of the procedure of mediation
2. UK should enter into mediation with Greece on the Parthenon Marbles issue, on the basis of UNESCO’s 2010 mediation rules.
Mediation is a new procedure, which is not binding and will encourage collaboration and discussion between the two sides to find a win-win solution.
RESOLUTION ADDRESSED TO:
The resolution addresses the following public agencies and other competent institutions:
1. Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports
2. UK Ministry of Culture, Media and Sports
3. National Committees for UNESCO
AGENCY RESPONSIBLE FOR IMPLEMENTING THE RESOLUTION:
1. State Public Services (e.g. Ministries of Culture)
3. ICOMOS (National Committees)
DRAFT TEXT FOR THE RESOLUTION:
The 18th General Assembly developed in Florence, Italy, from 9 to 14 November 2014, considering the the 19th Recommendation of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting The Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation and the basis of UNESCO’s 2010 mediation rules, resolved:
To support the mediation process proposed by Greece for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles on the basis of UNESCO’s 2010 mediation and to encourage both parties (Greece and United Kingdom) to open a fruitful dialogue aiming at a mutually acceptable solution.
Further reading :
“ACROPOLIS – A Unique World Heritage Monument - The Return of the Marbles”
Why it’s right to repatriate certain museum artefacts: a response to James Cuno by tom flynn