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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Robin Williams.The campaign to reunite the sculptures from the Parthenon, has lost a great yet humble supporter
Tuesday, 12 August, 2014. The day started with the tragic news that actor Robin Williams had died. He will be remembered by the world for his amazing parts in many iconic firms, when he made so many of us cry and laugh as well as reflect on so many levels - Mrs Doubtfire, how could you leave now?
The campaign to reunite the sculptures from the Parthenon has lost a great, yet humble supporter. He will be remembered for his love of all things Greek, not least the sculptures from the Parthenon.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.
And we humbly thank Robin Williams for his support.
...."I go to all the Greek islands ... " , said... Robin Williams. " I have seen archaeological sites that made me think: I can not believe that I am in the country that gave birth to everything we know, everything we read in Greek mythology. Greek history is something that the whole of humanity should respect and bow. Perhaps the Greek economy is going to hell, but this does not mean that you (Greeks) are helpless. Economic data is constantly changing and in Europe and in America and around the world. What never changes is the heritage, your identity. The Parthenon is not leaving Athens. It's there to remind that all this progress and prosperity may return. Today I am in England, for example, and I have nowhere to go. What to see? Buckingham Palace? As and when I go to Germany, I do not care to see the Berlin Wall. But one can not ignore Delos, the Parthenon and Mycenae !", Robin Williams in an interview with Proto Thema newspaper.
Luca Lo Sicco successfully completes his London to Athens bike ride
Dr. Luca Lo Sicco, is Italian and has been living and working in the UK for over 15 years. He teaches at the University of Southampton and with Prof. David Boyd-Carrigan co-founded 'Greece Needs Love'. The aim has been to raise money for art students in Greece and organise an exhibition for Greek artists in London - a Greek Art Biennale. An equally important aim was to join the campaign to return the sculptures from the Parthenon currently housed in the British Museum, back to Greece and the Acropolis Museum.
On 01 July this year, Luca began his cycle run from Bloomsbury, London outside the entrance of the British Mueum.
He was suffering with a summer cold and could barely speak but set off and 35 days and 8 hours later, he arrived in sunny Greece. He travelled through France and Italy crossing by ferry from Italy to Patras and cycling from the west Peloponnese to Athens. Difficult moments were plentiful but what will be a lasting memory for Luca, is the help and support he received from people along the way. All those that asked him what he was doing, were quick to say they too supported the reunification of these sculptures.
Generosity, fairness and respect are values that shape Luca's life, and he firmly believes that the best place to view the sculptures is in the Acropolis Museum. "The return of the marbles to Athens is a historic and moral obligation of us all" concludes Luca.
Deputy Culture and Sports Minister Angela Gerekou, congratulated Luca and presented him with a figurine replica of a dove from the Hellenistic period.
Luca had also decided, prior to starting his journey, that he would donate his bicycle to the Acropolis Museum. In Athens he met Professor Pandermalis, President the Acropolis Museum.
There is no doubt as we followed Luca's progress with his facebook and twitter posts that his infectiuous smile was catching all the way into Athens!
The campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles love affair with cycling began nearly a decade ago with Dr Christopher Stockdale MBE, a General Practioner from the Midlands and member of the British Committee. After he retired in 2003, Chris cycled in spring 2005 from London to Athens to campaign for the reunification of the marbles - five years before the Acropolis Museum was opened.
Ateni Samjak, a novella written by Michael Reppas and Emanuel Comino is launched in Australia
Ateni Samjak, is a novella written by Michael Reppas and Emanuel Comino. It is the story of a grandfather’s visit to the British Museum with his grandson; and the tale of a family living in Athens during Turkish occupation and their part in the fight to preserve the Greek language, cultural, Orthodox faith and the Parthenon.
Emanuel Comino as Founder and Chairman of the International Organising Committee - Australia- for the Resititution of the Parthenon Marbles, launched the novella on Saturday 26th of July 2014 with Professor Vrasidas Karalis, Head of Department of Modern Greek and Byzantine studies at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Lessons from antiquity
"No, it seems to me that what we need right now is some ancient Greek wisdom, “sophia.” Not some idealized image of the Greeks, not Brad Pitt as Achilles, but the realism of ancient Greeks, the skepticism of the ancient Greeks, the bracing and for me life-affirming pessimism of the ancient Greeks, the tragic Greeks, the Greeks that Nietzsche rightly loved.
I want to say something that I said the last time I was in Greece, in Athens last summer, and I promise to say it every time I visit Greece until things change. Although I live in New York, I am still a British citizen, and as a British citizen I think it is shameful, absolutely shameful, limitlessly shameful that the Parthenon Marbles stay in London and are not returned to Athens. It seems to me to be an example of limitless ignorance and stupidity not to return the marbles. It should be done now, today, right now. Let’s call David Cameron right now or maybe e-mail the Queen." Simon Critchley
Remembering Nadine Gordimer, supporter for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
Nadine Gordimer, supporter for the reunfication of the sculptures from Parthenon, has died. The BCRPM pay tribute to this great literary writer by reflecting on her preface to Christopher Hitchen's third edition book 'The Parthenon Marbles:the case for the reunification'.
BBC Radio 4 on Frontrow also has a great tribute to Nadine, a wonderful person and gifted writer. She wrote more than 30 books and jointly won 1974's Booker Prize for The Conservationist and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1991. Recognised as one of the literary world's most powerful voices against apartheid, she was also a firm supporter for the reunifcation of the Parthenon Marbles.
Her preface in Christopher Hitchen's third editon book The Parthenon Marbles:the case for the reunification which was launched in London in 2008 meant a great deal to founder of the BCRPM, Eleni Cubitt. This edition of the book is dedicated to Mrs Cubitt's husband, the late James Cubitt, a British architect that met with Melina Mercouri in the early 80's and felt very strongly about the campaign becoming as much a British concern as it was for Greece or the world.
Nadine begins her preface with:"How parts of the Parthenon frieze came to be in England in the first place is an example of imperial arrogance manifest in marble.'Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set' - not content with claiming sovereignty over other peoples' countries, the British Empire appropriated the art in which ethos, history, religious mythology, the fundament of the people is inbued."
"Resitution now, in the twenty-first century, is on wider (appropiately) than legal grounds, grounds of dishonesty in colonialism justified as the acquisition of art."
Nadine, like Christopher and many others too could not understand why there was (including, until recently British Museum literature) reference to these sculptures as the 'Elgin Marbles'.
"They are not and never were Lord Elgin's marbles; that is not their provenance."
Nadine was equally mistified by the British Museum's claim that as world cultural objects they are best represented in the British Museum and that in fact 'more people' can see them there.
"In terms of origin", Nadine writes," the claim is absolute: they belong to Greece."
She follows on "But as representative of the culture of ancient Greece, as the genisis of the ideal of humanism and beauty in art, there is also the argument that the Parthenon frieze belongs to world culture, to all of us who even unknowingly derive something of our democratic aesthetic from it. From that argument derives another: Where in the world should such art, universally 'owned' in the sense of human development, be displayed? The answer 'the British Museum in London' harks back to the relic of the empire, the assumption that Britain is the mecca of the world: that sections of the Parthenon frieze shown there can be seen by more people, from more parts of the globe,than is poissible anywhere else."
She states that without knowing the visitor numbers of the two museums, the Acropolis Museum in Athens and the Parthenon Gallery in the British Museum - that in fact neither of these two museums are perfectly placed for the world' population to have a 'casual Sunday afternoon cultural outing.'
She concludes: "They belong: they are are the DNA, in art, of the people of Greece. They also belong, as they do, to all of us who have inherited such evidence of human creativity as development, and there is no site in our world where the direct experience of seeing them is achievable for everyone, where else should they be but where they were created?"
Nadine Gortimer also tackled that great British Museum argument of the 'floodgates'. She felt that this argument denies the purpose of art museums: 'to further appreciation of the universality in diversity of art as profound human expression, in different versions, by different peoples occupying varied envirinments in past and present times."
She goes on to stress 'objects complete in themselves', are not all plundered, many have been legally purchased and these would continue to be honourably retaimed by foreign museums. Nadine was determined to highlight the 'magnificent coherence', of the sculptures from the Parthenon, when they are shown in their rightful place, in Athens. She was unhappy with the British Museum's continued need to justify the retention of the sculptures in London: "as art and in its meaning as a unit, denied and destroyed".
And Nadine Gordimer concludes in her preface:"The Parthenon Gallery in the new Acropolis Museum provides a sweep of contiguous space for the 106-metre-long Panathenaic Procession as it never could be seen anywhere else in the world, facing the Parthenon itself high on the Sacred Rock." And as to the gaps in the magnificent frieze that visitors to the new Acropolis Museum see filled by the casts Greece had to buy from the British Museum..... "they are there to be filled by an honourable return of the missing parts from the British Museum. Reverence - and justice - demand this."
The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, thank Nadie Gordimer for her thought provoking preface and wish her family to know that she will always be remembered as a friend and eternally respected for her words.
Michelle Patrax-Evans heads to the British Museum to celebrate the Acropolis Museums' 5th anniversary and have her say
Dear BCRPM, this is marvellous.
What a great weekend, I am reading St Clair’s overview with great interest.
Good to hear about a campaign from Greece ‘REturn, REstore and REstart’! I thank you for forwarding it to me, because until now although so committed.... sometimes at this age…… I had been asked by Graham Binns (Chairman of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles) to develop my public debate speech of 11 November 1985 at Trinity and All Saints University (college ) against the 7th Earl of Elgin, into an article for publication. Publishing the article in December 1997, being thanked for it by Melina Mercouri, being welcomed in the Foundation in Athens by Jules Dassin (Melina’s widower) who asked me to keep writing – was memorable. Also invited to the Televised programme at the Ealing studios then in 1999 by the Minister of Culture for the Olympic committee to join the pre-Olympic games preparation Committee as the expert on culture, developing the article based on my 1996/7 research which is now, on the websites of the BCRPM and Melina Mercouri Foundation...
After all that hope and commitment, I must admit I am overjoyed that with some posters and a little help from my friends, I could lend my support for the 5th anniversary of the Acropolis Museum this June, by visiting the British Museum… on an important mission.
Thank you also for your input on cycling and the sculptures from the Parthenon. Joy to be able to combine my love of cycling, the Tour de France in Yorkshire and my commitment to the campaign for the reunification of the sculptures!
Efficient communications, devotion to the cause : Graham Binns, Melina Mercouri , Jules Dassin, the Olympic committee , (not to mention the support of My MP G Mulholland) and more. I am glad that even from #Yorkshire ( where the best things do happen!) I can be relied upon to be used in this worthy CAUSE.
London and Athens
Athens International Conference, 26 June 2014
'PARTHENON. The Integrity of a Synbolic Monument. The Role of the Citizen. An International Campaign' organised by the Marianna Vardinoyannis Foundation in association with the Melina Mercouri Foundation
William St Clair
Author of Lord Elgin and the Marbles revised edition 1998, The Elgin Marbles, Questions of Stewardship and Accountability, 1999, That Greece Might Still Be Free, the Philhellenes in the War of Independence, new edition in open access, 2008, and other works. He is Senior Research Fellow at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and of the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge and Harvard.His essay on 'Looking at the Acropolis of Athens from Modern Times to Antiquity' will be published later in the summer.
First let me say how much I feel honoured and delighted to have been invited and to have the opportunity of offering some ideas. Many people here know far more than I do and I have to be severely selective, but I hope to pick out points that may be relevant to question of what is best to do now.
With written records on the Acropolis of Athens back to Homer and archaeological evidence even earlier, there is no site in the world in which the long view is so long, the ways of seeing so different, the stories told and the claims to legitimacy so varied, and the evidence available for building an understanding so complete.
This experience, that is retrievable, and therefore transferrable, is, I would say, an inheritance as precious as the marble.
In that long history, the question of return is quite recent, just over two hundred years, but in terms of modern notions of cultural property, with only a few scattered predecessors, it covers the whole age, and provides the paradigm for all the arguments.
I can begin with ideas based on legality
The cartoon above, that shows the Ottoman governor of the Acropolis remonstrating with Elgin is from 1824, but the complaints began earlier, with doubts being cast on the legitimacy of the firman, the letter from the highest official in the Ottoman government writing in the name of the Sultan.
There has been much writing about the legal force of this document. But there are risks in applying present day law and modern legal concepts to historical situations in which very different laws and customs applied. The reason Elgin needed the Sultan's permission was that the Acropolis was a military fortress. There are other firmans in which the Sultan allowed removals of antiquities from fortresses, that I have seen. And it is worth recalling that international law included right of conquest as well as treaty transfer at least until the late nineteenth century. If you look at the website of the British Royal family you will see that it includes both as the legal foundation for its historical legitimacy. As far as the Acropolis is concerned, we have well documented records of legal transfer back to 1205 and probably earlier. But my main point is this. The whole approach of trying to build a legal case is backward looking. So I would say it would be better to look forward from the historical moment in which we find ourselves
Another set of arguments relate to claims of Hellenic continuity. I was among those lucky enough to be invited to meet Melina Mercouri when she came to London as Minister of Culture in 1986. I was quite seduced, but although I was in favour of return, I could not go along with her nationalist myth-making, such the story she told of the Greeks at the time of the Revolution offering to share their bullets with the Turks if they would spare the Parthenon. And that remains my view. We cannot honour classical Athens by disregarding, setting aside, or compromising with their intellectual achievements, that include separating a search for truth about the past from telling stories about the past to serve the present.
We should, I suggest, be wary of using antiquities for 'nation-building' that can easily slip into myth making. As Plato and Socrates knew, the aspiration to 'make the mute stones speak' is an illusion. The stones can only speak when some human being speaks on their behalf. And questions therefore arise about who deserves to be accorded that privilege, and on what intellectual, including historical, authority do the offered stories rest?
It was on the same trip to London that Ms Mercouri made her famous remark, 'There are no Elgin Marbles!' She was picking up on a point of language that the act of re-naming can be an appropriation, an annexation, and an attempt at legitimation of a new status. Since Mercouri's speech, the phrase 'Elgin Marbles' has become politically incorrect, and is now seldom heard.
However, the phrase 'The Sculptures of the Parthenon', which has replaced it, is also unsatisfactory. It too tends to legitimate a particular way of seeing, namely, that the sculptural components of the ancient buildings of the Acropolis are of greater value than the architecture of which they formed a part, that the buildings are more important than the site, and that they can be separated from the social and cultural purposes to which they were put. The phrase, 'The Sculptures of the Parthenon', that rides on nineteenth century western romantic notion of autonomous 'works of art', and its conceptual hierarchies, itself concedes much to the opponents of return. The current phrase would therefore be only partially corrected if it were modified to, say, 'The Sculptures from the Parthenon.'
It is well know that in the ancient authors, the Parthenon is seldom mentioned. In ancient times, from Homer to Julian, it is the Acropolis that is appealed to, whether to warn, to shame, to educate, or to celebrate. And it is the whole visible Acropolis rock, slopes and summit, buildings and freestanding statues and dedications, myth and history, the natural as much as the man-made.
The collection of antiquities brought from the Acropolis by Elgin included substantial pieces of all four of the classical buildings on the Acropolis summit, and of the Monument of Thrassylos on the south slope. I took a few photographs in the British Museum in preparation for this occasion.
Here is part of a Parthenon capital with a column drum that comes from elsewhere and does not fit.
It has had to be replaced on the building by a replica
And part of the Erechtheion
And of the Nike temple
So what arguments are deployed by upholders of status quo, of whom, incidentally there are vanishingly few in the UK? The old 'rescue and stewardship' that was in standard use from Elgin's day until the late 1990s has been largely withdrawn from, rendered unsustainable by the revelations of the damage done to the Marbles in the 1930s, and by the even more damaging revelations of the extent of the officially sanctioned systematic misleading of the public and scholarly world, and of the long-persisted-in illegalities. It was hurriedly replaced by a newly invented justification, called the 'universal' or 'encyclopedic' museum, and the labels have been altered to fit.
The separated parts of the frieze in London and Athens, we are now told in a phrase dreamed up by some PR guru or spin doctor, tell 'different but complementary stories.' And in support of this new narrative we see attempts to downplay classical Hellas. Who would have guessed that the main labels in the Parthenon gallery would now refer to Persia? Including the Cyrus cylinder that is being paraded both on this label and round the world's museums as a 'declaration of human rights'.
What we are seeing here is a new danger in addition to the others mentioned so far, a kind of cultural relativism allied with a commercial consumerism. Essentially the thought seems to be 'tell the punters what they want to hear', a modern form of myth-making as damaging as the nationalism of Melina Mercouri.
And, since UNESCO are here, this may be the moment to make a wider point. The Venice Charter, now half a century old, has provided a framework for an intergenerational ethics on the conservation of sites and monuments, essentially that it is wrong to alter the built heritage to serve the ideological aims of the present. What we lack, and increasingly need, is a code of ethics that subjects the stories that are officially invented and presented to make the mute stones speak to a similar set of ethical limitations.
So how should the claim now be presented? As it happens we now have the documents for the first claim for return made in 1835 immediately after independence.
It is notable that the claim, for the Nike temple friezes, was presented in terms of what was best for the monument, for an anastelosis.
In my view that is how the claim should now be presented in the re-launch. What is best for the monument, for viewers, and for the scholarly world, and for the visitor experience, categories that coincide and reinforce one another. And by the monument here I mean the whole Acropolis.
In support of the claim I would recommend preparing a clear statement, that is forward looking and drafted to show that the claim is intended to meet the needs and opportunities of today and the future. It should celebrate the achievement of classical Hellas and Athens in particular, emphasising its historical uniqueness. Although Hellas was influenced by its neighbours, and influenced them, as nobody doubts, it is historically misleading, as well as consumerist, to imply that it was just one civilization among many.
In Athens for the relaunch I would recommend a studied attempt to avoid condescending to visitors, as is already well under way in the excellent labels here. The public deserve the best. And they are interested in the ideas not just the stones, and in the most up to date knowledge. They would, in my view, prefer to be told that Athens was one of - at the last count - forty four Hellenic cities that had forms of democratic institutions and was not the first- than that it was 'the cradle of democracy.' And the Acropolis Museum can develop further its modern information technology to present alternatives and imagined reconstructions as is already happening
These are not guidance of the 'some say this, some say that' type that, as we see elsewhere, open the way both to old myth-making and to modern cultural relativism and consumerism. They are dynamic attempts to enable visitors to comprehend alternatives where there is room for genuine debate within the traditions of science and evidence-based humanities that our predecessors revived from ancient Hellas. One of the main roles of the ancient Acropolis was to serve as an education in stone, a paideia, for citizens and visitors. You have the opportunity to set out an updated vision of that ideal in the relaunch documents and, as the pieces are returned, to make it ever more real.