Greece may get back Marbles

01 September 2009 - 21:23 By Richard Owen

The never-ending tussle between Britain and Greece over the Elgin Marbles should be resolved by creating a pan-European museum in Athens, at which all the Parthenon fragments would be brought together under a British director, a Vatican official has said.

Francesco Buranelli, the head of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, said: "The moment has come to set up the first European museum with the same kind of extraterritorial status accorded to embassies."

The states which own Parthenon fragments - Britain, France, Germany, Denmark and the Holy See - could then "put them on permanent display, maintaining their legitimate ownership of the works while bringing together a heritage which belongs to the whole of humanity".

Buranelli, the former director of the Vatican Museums, said the idea was inspired by the "marvellous" new Museum of the Acropolis in Athens and by a decision by Italy, Germany and the Holy See to return fragments "on temporary loan".

Buranelli said long-standing Greek demand for the British Museum to give up the Elgin Marbles was misplaced since they had been acquired "legitimately" during Ottoman rule in Greece. The Parthenon had suffered a violent explosion when struck by a cannon ball fired at the Turks by the Venetians during the siege of the city in 1687.

Decorations by the sculptor Phydias lay forgotten on the ground until Lord Elgin, then British ambassador, transported them to London in 1801.

Elgin's act had allowed for the conservation and display of the marbles over the years and had saved them from a worse fate. It also, however, had "left a deep wound in European cultural sensitivity". - © The Times, London