Acropolis Museum Set to Open

Finally – the Acropolis Museum is set to open – Saturday, June 20th.  Athens is one of my favorite of cities.

However this is something I have never understood.  How is it a British citizen can steal parts of an ancient Greek monument and it’s not considered theft?  Hegemony?

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the museum would make no difference to the UK’s commitment to keeping the sculptures…

But the DCMS spokesman said: “Neither the trustees nor the British government believe they should be returned. The main arguments are that they are available free of charge in a museum that has more visitors than any other in the world; they are looked after in perfect environmental conditions; and above all they are presented in a world context.”  So will they ever be returned? “Never say never,” said the spokesman, “but I can’t imagine the circumstances will ever change.”  The British Museum said reports over the weekend that it had offered to lend its marbles to the new museum were based on a misunderstanding.

I’m not sure I understand.  Was this a game of finders-keepers back in 1816?

Of course it was.   According to the British Museum’s website, Lord Elgin “acquired” the frescoes along with some other sculptures & treasures.  Back in 1816, the world was the British empire’s oyster, wasn’t it.  This is the way the British Museum sees it.

The ‘Elgin Marbles’ is a popular term that in its widest use may refer to the collection of stone objects – sculptures, inscriptions and architectural features – acquired by Lord Elgin during his time as ambassador to the Ottoman court of the Sultan in Istanbul. More specifically, and more usually, it is used to refer to those sculptures, inscriptions and architectural features that he acquired in Athens between 1801 and 1805.  These objects were purchased by the British Parliament from Lord Elgin in 1816 and presented by Parliament to the British Museum.

So, acquired by Lord Elgin – “stolen” in some courts – then sold to the British Parliament.  All very legal of course.   Quite.

On our first visit to the Acropolis we were on a guided tour.  The guide spoke English and we were warned at least twice to NOT pick up any souvenir.   I mean there were chunks and pebble-sized pieces of “stuff” one could rightly think came from the Parthenon or other structures on ‘the hill.’   Who do you suppose we (my fellow vacationing compatriots) spotted picking up something and slipping into his pants pocket.  Simon, the Englishman, whose wife constantly called out for him.  I don’t know about Simon, but she was driving us crazy.  Since they were close to our age, we bluntly informed him to put it back or we’d inform the guide.  He put it back.

Yes – I have had every urge in wanting to bring something tangible ‘home’ with me from various sites and places around the world.  Something to prove I was there.  Pictures do.

The Brits just ought to return that which rightfully belongs to Greece whether they have the precise, climate-controlled, protective enclosures are not.  Just hand ‘em over.

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2 Responses

  1. I agree. I have visited three times and consider it a tragedy that the marbles are not where they belong. I will be going again to Athens in September and I am looking forward to visiting the museum.

  2. We’re looking towards next May. You’re going in September. Ya know, I was just thinking – we’ve been three times as well and have always gone ‘off-season.’ Primarily because we’re antisocial. ;)

    Some places touch you and you’ll see them in your mind always. For me: Tintern Abbey is one (who steals people’s roofs?). The Acropolis is another. This 3rd centruy guard tower in Augsburg just around the corner from my apt that was freakin’ amazing. Oh yeah – we were in Charleroi atop the monument to that little guy at Waterloo…..momentarily – Napoleon! All I could think was every place my eye could see was one after another – some battlefield. But Greece – Greece has the bluest water I’ve ever seen. Or maybe it’s just all the white when on one of the islands.

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