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The Greek side

Greece protests for her Monument

“150 years passed since this 6th woman (that is the Caryatid) was removed from the stones’ combination of Erechteum”…

1836-1980

The sculptures have their own history

From 1836 until nowadays, the Greek governments fight for – through diplomatic and political policies- the return of the Parthenon marbles. Fourteen files of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirm all the above. The documents of the historic record cover all years till 1980, when the remarkable Melina Merkouri’s fight over the return began.

The first file dates in the year 1836, during the first establishment years of the new Greek state, when the losses, on a living, lifeless and monumental level were assessed.
A discussion between the two countries took place in 1925, when the Embassy of London established contact with the Central Service (17th April 1925) and asked for detailed evidence concerning the plans and reports for the restoration of the Parthenon, aiming to supply the famous sculptor of the time Courtney Ρollock, so that the latter would be able to convince the opponents about the return of those heirlooms back to Greece, through his further article writing. (note: what had come before was a Pollock’s letter to the London “Times”) stating that the studying project in Greece is serious and of such importance that a possible return could evoke the danger of their destruction”.
The first serious discussion at the House of Commons was realized in 1950. On the 17th November 1950, the Ministry of Information informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the letter of A. Pallis (director of the London Press Office and representative of the British Parliament member, Snow. The fiery speech, announced by the Minister on 24th October played the lead in the briefing. In fact, the Minister argued on the return of at least one of the Caryatids.
“150 years have passed”, mentioned in his speech the British parliament member “since the 6th woman (that is the Caryatid) was removed from the stones’ combination of Erechteum”. The unfortunate girl remained closed in the British Museum. It is about time that the Greek sunny weather wins her back”, he stated.
From the year 1962 till the year 1965, the relations between Athens and London were staggered because of the Cyprus problem, while the Greek Ambassadors Giorgos Seferiadis (Seferis), M. Melas and D. Nikolareizis were suggesting that the issue of the return of the Elgin marbles shouldn’t be brought back at the time. However, at the same time, the Greek private individual and businessman Constantinos Nikoloudis sent to the Minister Alexandros Arguropoulos a letter, telling him that he had contact with lawyers from City, in London.
He also wrote: “I was informed of a political move, set between the Workers and the Conservatives so that the issue of the return of the Elgin marbles would rise by an unknown member of the Parliament. This would have as a result that all the Conservative members of the Parliament would vote in favor of the Bill because although they generally agreed with the idea, they would have voted it down, if a well-known political opponent had proposed it. Therefore, everyone insisted that the plan should be kept a secret and since a  back-bencher wouldn’t know of course the history of the Elgin Marbles, I was asked to make a memorandum and give it to Mr Goodman. (note: Mr Goodman is the lawyer of the law company in London, named “Goodman” as well)”.  
He informs the Minister of Foreign Affairs that he has already started the first negotiations. “I visited again the Ambassador on the 25th February and asked to find out if the memorandum was ready. Mr Nikolareizis said to me the following: 1) that he believes that the return of the marbles is impossible and that it would be wise not to set the subject. 2)  that the ex Ambassador in London Mr Melas considers it a closed case and wrote a relative report at the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs,which was shown to me. 3. that  if the Labor Party M.P (the backbencher) needs clues, he should be able to find them in the encyclopedia.

Giorgos Seferis

In 1962, during the conflict around the Cyprus problem, Giorgos Seferis, in reply to the Greek press accusations for “having legalized the English holdup”, claims: “My mission here ends within a few weeks. The main goal of my mission, after the Agreements of Zurich and London was the reestablishment of the disturbed relations between Greece and Britain because of the Cyprus problem. As a result, I don’t believe that the current moment is neither appropriate for the beginning of a conflict between the Greek and Britain side, nor that I am able to predict when the British Government will believe that the right moment has come”.

(SOURCE: Newspaper Vima, June 2009)

1980-Today

80’s Decade

Melina

In 1981, Melina Merkouri takes charge of the Ministry of Culture. She sets the issue of the return of the marbles at the international community in July 1962.

The idea for the return of the marbles came to her during the 60’s, when during the shooting of the movie “Phaedra”, the British asked for payment in order to let the Greek crew film the marbles. For the first time, she officially set the matter, as a Minister of Culture, in July 1982 in Mexico, at the UNESCO Conference of Ministers Responsible for Culture and since that day, she never stopped fighting for this until her death. “You need to understand what the marbles mean to us”, she said. “They are our pride, they are our   sacrifices, they are the absolute noble symbol to us. They are a tribute to the democratic philosophy. They are our ambition and identity. They are the substance of our Hellenism”. And if you ask me whether I’ll be alive when the Parthenon Marbles return to Greece, I’m telling you that “Yes, I’ll be alive”. But if even if I’m not, I will be born again.”
She never stopped saying that Greece was only asking for the return of the Parthenon Marbles and not for the other masterpieces, being in foreign museums.  And this is because the Parthenon Marbles consist part of a unique monument.

To support the petition for the marbles, she thought about a new Acropolis Museum and she set out an international architectural contest for its construction in 1989. She also decided to rely on the ancient institution of “sponsorship”’, so that the museum would be ready as soon as possible and she held various events like the concerts of M. Rochtropovitz and  V. Papathanasiou etc. This museum would offer an appropriate space for these exceptional marbles to be exhibited and would leave those opposing to the return of the Parthenon marbles in 1982 without further arguments.  
On the 28th November 1983, she gathered the Ministers of Culture of the European Economic Community (of the time) and set the following question to them: “How it is possible for a community that is deprived of its cultural dimension to be able to develop”. She also added that “culture is the soul of a community and that the definition of the European identity is based on the respect of individuality and on the creation of a life-like example through the cultural dialogue among the European countries. It is time our voices were heard as loud as those of the technocrats. Culture, art and creation are not less important than trade, economy and technology”. 

90’s decade

1997

Evangelos Venizelos, Mark Fisser

On the 6th July 1997, the memorandum of the Minister of Culture, Evangelos Venizelos to his Britain counterpart Mark Fisser was published in the Greek press. The memorandum included all the Greek argumentation and was opposing to the positions of the British.

The Greek arguments against the British ones about the Elgin Marbles

1) The issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles had never been a closed case for Greece and the World’s Intellect, in which many important men of the British History are included (Lord Byron, Shelley, Tomas Hardy etc). Since 1982, when the remarkable Melina Merkouri was the Greek Minister of Culture until today, the matter is officially set at the UNESCO competent bodies, whereas after a relative decision of the Greek Ministerial Council, the matter was set to the British Government in October 1983.

2) UNESCO insists – with rulings and recommendations of different institutions and bodies- that two-day consultations between the Greek Democracy and the United Kingdom need to take place. Of course, this should be evident between two friendly states, which have lasting allied connections and are both members of the European Union and the European Council. Within this framework, we consider the confirmed intention of the British Government to bring the United Kingdom back to the established regime of being a full member of UNESCO particularly important

3) With the title “The return of the Parthenon Marbles”, Greece means the return of the glyphic decorations and the other elements of the Parthenon Monument  (such as the drum-tambours, the chapiters etc), that were removed and taken to London by Lord Elgin. The complete description of these elements has been given in UNESCO and is quite known in the relative international bibliography. However, Greece does not set a generalized matter for the return of all cultural objects, found out of their original place.  
The Parthenon Marbles are not self-contained. They are inextricable elements of the Parthenon, the greatest and symbolic monument of Western Civilization. In fact, some of these elements are necessary, not only from the aesthetic side but also for the stability of the monument, as the restoration works show. The petition for the return of the Marbles is not actually set by the Greek Government, for the sake of the Greek Nation and the Greek History. It is set for the sake of the world heritage and with the voice of the truncate monument itself, demanding the return of its marbles. 
4) Greece is handling this matter, being extremely tactful towards the United Kingdom because it is absolutely certain that the British people’s cultural sensitivity and tradition make the British Government a positive recipient of the need for the return of the Marbles and the rectification of the monument. The sensitivity of a big part of the British public opinion towards the return of the marbles has been accepted by the Greek and the international public opinion very positively. 
5) The Greek side knows the typical argumentation of the British side.
a) The presumed existence of a legal license, given to Lord Elgin by the Ottoman Government (Greece was under Turk occupation at the time) and b) the claim that the Marbles are property of the British Museum. Our aim was not the exchange of the following legal arguments because we believe that this matter is a matter of cultural policy, based on the need for respect of the world heritage. In any case though and since the British side insists on its report that a relative Ottoman firman exists, we can expose our factual argumentation, proving: the absence of a legal license allowing Lord Elgin to destroy and take away elements of the Parthenon. In addition, it is obvious that, on an international level, the matter concerns the two states and does not evoke the legal relationship, which according to the national law connects the British Government with the British Museum. Furthermore, the British Council was the one that decided, after huge hesitations about the legitimacy of the licenses and actions of Lord Elgin, the buy of the marbles by him.      
6) The Greek side is also aware of the various factual arguments that have risen at times: a) the fact that the British Museum offers better conditions for the preservation of the marbles and allows a much larger number of people to visit them and b) the objections concerning the air pollution of Athens and the lack of a museum, in which they could be exhibited. 
The Greek side is positive towards the fact that such arguments are set, as they actually accept the lawfulness of the Greek side as far the return of the Marbles is concerned:
a) The international level of the archaeological science and technical preservation of ancient objects allows the implementation of more successful methods in London and in Athens as well. If the number of visitors was more important than the integrity and the natural position of the monument, then all the monuments of the world heritage should be placed in the museums of New York or Paris, which have more visitors or should be broadcasted only through the international TV networks.

b) Lord Elgin did not remove the Marbles because Athens did not have the appropriate museum hall. It was a clear act of vandalism, outrageous even for the time it was committed. The building of the new Museum of Acropolis, which has visual contact with the rock of Acropolis is a plan being implemented at the moment. The Greek Government did not decide on this construction in order to confute the arguments of the British side. On the contrary, the construction of such a museum is necessary for the exposal of the monument of the Acropolis.

7) Besides, the Greek government is ready to discuss the matter of the Parthenon Marbles with the British Government.

1998

In 1998, revelations about the damage, caused to the marbles by the British inadequate preservation conditions, came to light through the press.

The Minister Of Culture of the time, Evangelos Venizelos, talked about “ignorance”, due to the “lack of historic continuity and responsibility”, adding that, on an international level, the “Greek science takes the lead in the know-how of the preservation of the Parthenon marbles, because they are on its land, just like the Attic marble. He also set the subject of the return of the marbles only in a two-part base and “in the framework of a Greek-British cooperation”.  The last benefit of the negotiation was evaluated through a new letter to the British government. On a political level, Greece avoids to encourage the World and European governmental services to assume responsibility and play a part in the return of the marbles.

1999

Elisavet Papazoi – Bill Clinton
1999. In 1999, the Minister of Culture Elisavet Papazoe set a new Note for the return of the Marbles. At the same period, the open and public statement of the ex-President of America Bill Clinton in favor of the return of the Marbles took place.

A NOTE FOR THE PARTHENON MARBLES was submitted by the Greek Government to the British Parliament Special Committee on Culture, Press and Athletics. In the inquiry of the Special Committee “Cultural Property: Return and illegal trade” (terms being mentioned at the press conference, number 12, 10th February 2000), the Minister of Culture Elisavet Papazoe , on behalf of the Greek government, presented evidence concerning the return of the Parthenon Marbles in Greece.

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1 1.1 The “Return of the Parthenon Marbles” is strictly referred to the Greek Government’s petition for the home-coming of the architectural sculptures and structural elements of the Parthenon. These elements were removed from the temple in the beginning of the 19th century, by the command of Lord Elgin, the Ambassador of her Majesty in the Sublime Porte and afterwards they were bought by the British Government, after a law of the Parliament, voted in 1816.

1.2 The British Museum in London had custody over the Parthenon Marbles. They are still there until today, including 15 metopes from the eastern side of the ancient temple, 56 glyphic surfaces, taken from the frieze, 19 sculptures from the two frontispieces, other fragments that belong to the above units, a chapiter, a drum-tambour and an Ionic epistyle (“thranos”), that is almost half of the decoration, being then inextricable part of the monument (see the attached 1)

2. THE GREEK PETITION FOR THE RETURN OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES.

2.1 The return of the Parthenon Marbles has been a Greek matter since its Independence (see the Attached 2) The petition for their return has been adopted by many distinguished personalities, including great British intellects and politics for two centuries now, since their removal from the monument. In 1940-41, the return of the Marbles in Greece had concerned the British Government. In October 1983, the Greek Government submitted an official petition to the Government of the United Kingdom for the return of the Parthenon Marbles. The petition was not granted. )

2.2. The Greek Government has promoted the issue of the return of the Parthenon marbles at global forums, including the one of UNESCO, where the matter was set in 1982 for the first time and was approved by the crushing majority of the representatives. The written declaration of the European Parliament in 1998 in favor of the return of the Parthenon Marbles in Greece, as well as the suggestion of UNESCO in 1999 for the start of dialogue between Greece and the United Kingdom are samples of recent moves. These moves consist proof for the persistent and continuous interest, shown by the European and global side towards the matter. (see the attached 3)

3. THE CONSEQUENCES BY THE “DENUDATION” OF THE PARTHENON

3.1. The “denudation” of the Parthenon, between the years 1801-1811 provoked unrecoverable destructions in the structural stability of the monument. The removal of the metopes resulted in the cut of certain near architectural and structural elements and therefore in the destruction of the construction. The sculptures of the frieze were cut off the support marble stones, so that their transportation would be simplified. A Doric chapiter was also cut for the same reason. Basic structural elements of the temple (entablatures and triglyphs) were destroyed. These interventions were registered by Lord Elgin’s helpers and were confirmed by foreign visitors in Athens. In addition, they were considered equals to vandalism by the House of Lords members and by politics and intellects of Elgin’s times. (see the attached 4)

3.2 The Parthenon Marbles were almost lost at a shipwreck during their long journey to Britain. When they arrived in London, the marbles were temporarily kept in a carbon warehouse. Many documents of the British Museum’s record inform us that in the years 1937-38, the marbles were cleaned with metallic brushes and abradants, an action that resulted in the unrecoverable destruction of many sculptures’ surface. These harmful interventions were confirmed by the Greek special crew of scientists, who examined the Parthenon marbles at the British Museum in October 1999. (see the attached 5)

4. THE ISSUE OF THE RETURN OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES

4.1 The uniqueness of the Parthenon

Works of art from all periods of the ancient Greek civilization are exhibited in museums and art halls all around the world, in order to offer to millions of people the opportunity to enjoy them, to appreciate and observe them. However, the Parthenon Marbles are a unique case. 
The glyphic decoration and the architectural elements of the Parthenon were not created as autonomous works of art. On the contrary, since the beginning they were designed as inextricable parts of the monument. This monument, built on the 5th century still lies on the Acropolis of Athens.
The Parthenon, symbol of the Athenean Democracy, represents the art of the classic Greek civilization at the acme of its glory. The Acropolis, decorated by the Parthenon, used to be the sacred centre of Ancient Athens, gathering around it all the important services of the city. (the Agora, the Pnyx, the theatres etc). The Parthenon keeps remaining the emblem of the city of Athens as well as the symbol of the Greek cultural identity. It also consists part of world heritage, one of the first monuments that the UNESCO included in the World Heritage List. In fact, it is the registered trademark of UNESCO. However, the political, cultural, historic and aesthetic values of the Parthenon are mostly linked with the city, in which it was born, Athens.

4.2 The unification of the Archaeological Sites in the Historic Centre of Athens.

The Acropolis and its surroundings consist the primal goal of a developing program for the Unification of the Archaeological Sites inside the historic centre of Athens. This program, under the aegis of the Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works and the Ministry of Culture includes a series of interventions, aiming to the restoration of the historic, cultural and physical environment around the Acropolis. A network of paths, some of which will be following the ancient ones, so that the Olympeion (Temple of Zeus) is unified with the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos, through the New Acropolis Museum, the Sanctuary and the Theatre of Dionysus, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Pnyx, the Ancient Agora and of course the Acropolis, creating a museum park, accessible to everyone. Whenever the modern Athenean or a visitor of the city will be walking along this itinerary, he or she will comprehend the different phases of the city history, with the rock of the Acropolis dominating on a constant view. (see the attached 6)

4.3 The Program of Restoration, Preservation and Discussion of the Monuments of the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

The monumental and innovating preservation and restoration program, which started in the Acropolis 25 years ago, is realized, based on the studies, initially submitted in the international scientific circles for evaluation, through conferences and published reports.  Today’s restoration of the Parthenon, initially aims to the preservation of the monument’s structure, the preservation of its surfaces, the best possible protection of the sculptures and the replacement of parts of the monument, by piecing together the fragments scattered on the ground. Each intervention is irreversible, without causing any damage at the monument. The architectural elements of the Parthenon at the British Museum (ex. the chapiter and the    drum- tambours) will be integrated into the monument, right after their return. (see the attached 7 and 8).

During the last years, intensive archaeological research on the Acropolis and more specifically on the Parthenon has revealed new evidence. Numerous glyphic fragments belonging to the Parthenon have been found, many figures have been restored and the fragments, which can be pieced together with the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum have been recognized. These remarkable results show that the Acropolis keeps remaining an inexhaustible source of research knowledge. (see the attached 9).

4.4. The New Acropolis Museum

The New Acropolis Museum is the basic priority of the Greek state. The museum will be completed in 2004. It will host the collections that are now found in the current Acropolis Museum, as well as the Parthenon Marbles -those found in Athens and those at the British Museum, after their return in Athens. The New Acropolis Museum will be located on the feet of the Acropolis, in visual and natural contact with the archaeological site. 
The methodical excavation of the space around the museum revealed big parts of the Roman and early Christian city of Athens. (1st-7th century A.C.) ,  of  great archaeological and historic interest. These will be preserved in situ. In fact, they will be included in the plans of the new museum. It was necessary that the initial architectural plans would be modified so that these discoveries could be exhibited in the museum. For this purpose, the plans of the new Acropolis Museum will be chosen through a closed international contest with international judges.

The visitors of the New Acropolis Museum will be offered a unique experience, not only of the classic but also of the roman, the early Christian and modern Athens. All the Parthenon marbles will be exhibited in a special room. For the first time, after their destruction, they will be presented as a unified ensemble, at their initial and right place. They will also have visual contact with the unique monument, which they used to decorate once. The already existing museum, on top of the Acropolis and the New Acropolis Museum will fill up one another. The view from the top of the Acropolis or from the New Acropolis Museum towards the Acropolis rock will offer visitors a unique experience on the place.

4.5. Legal Matters

The legitimacy of the possession of the marbles is an ambiguous matter, not only because of the questioned document. The 1801 firman, as well as all the documents of 1802, which speculatively confirm the former illegalities- do not exist. The only existing document is an Italian translation of a Turkish document of the year 1801, the value of which as a firman is questioned. Elgin’s actions were going much further than the authority that the firman defined. According to it, his artists were licensed to enter the Acropolis, to make designs and impressions. In addition, Elgin and his agents are accused of threatening and buy over Ottoman officials so that the latter stayed out of their illegal actions. Only the fact of the removal of the Marbles out of the country, without the slightest barrier by the Ottoman authorities (as Greece was under Ottoman occupation at the time) does not consist ipso facto a proof of a legal license. In fact, it is remarkable that the Parliament Special Committee in 1816, did not focus its attention on the illegal possession of the marbles by Lord Elgin per se.

5.Conclusions

The Parthenon is known throughout the world as a unique monument in the history of architecture as well as the epitome of the contribution of Greek genius in the world heritage. The uniqueness of the monument and the need for the restoration of its sculptures cry for the return of the Parthenon marbles, exhibited in the British Museum at the moment. In the beginning of the 21st century, the ideas around historic preservation, protection and interpretation of the world heritage changed in a dramatic way. Within this framework, the Parthenon, a monument of global importance cannot remain truncate. The reunification of the Parthenon marbles in Athens, the town in which they were born, will confirm their reintegration into the historic, topographic and cultural framework and will contribute to their wider understanding and interpretation.


When the Parthenon Marbles will return to Athens, they will be placed in the New Acropolis Museum, into their birth-heart, Classic Athens. Part of this heart survives untouched on the rock of the Acropolis and its surroundings. When the reunification of the archaeological sites of Athens will be completed in 2002, the region will be accessible to everyone. The Cultural Olympiad as well as the Olympic Games of Athens are presenting the two countries, Greece and the United Kingdom, into a wide field of opportunities for effective cooperation in the cultural field. Within this framework, the reunification of the Parthenon marbles will be a unique chance for a close cooperation.

The government of the Greek Democracy is pleased, since –through the research of the Special Committee- a series of discussion between the two interested parties has started. We believe that after the revealing of clues, presented in the Note, the Special Committee will suggest to the Parliament to take the necessary measures which will ensure the reunification of the marbles within a suitable time. The circumstances for the reunification of the marbles in their birth- place have improved. Their return will compensate for the cultural and moral injustice, provoked by their prescript exile. We feel optimistic that the United Kingdom will be willing to deal with this important issue.

2009

At the inauguration. Karamanlis’s positions.

Karolos Papoulias

President of the Greek Democracy

On the 21st June 2009, the inauguration day of the New Acropolis Museum, the Greek government brings back the issue of the Reunification of the Sculptures. “It is time that the monuments’ wounds were healed and this will be achieved through the return of the marbles, that belong to it”, claimed Mr. Karolos Papoulias, President of the Democracy.

Antonis Samaras

Former Minister of Culture

The Marbles call for the Marbles…The Parthenon and its sculptures were victims of vandalism. Nowadays, this crime can be rectified. The Museum is the moral force, calling them back”, claimed the Ministry of Culture Mr Antonis Samaras.

Konstantinos Karamanlis

Former Prime Minister

“The Acropolis Museum is a work of all Greeks for all the World. It belongs to the world culture”, noted the prime-minister Kostas Karamanlis. He also referred to Konstantinos Karamanlis, “who inspired and put into action the initial procedures in 1976” and to Melina Merkouri, “who really promoted this common effort since the 80’ s decade”. “If the Acropolis of Pericles was an anthem to Beauty, Harmony and Freedom, the contemporary Acropolis Museum is today the ark of all the ideas that the Parthenon symbolizes since the very ancient times. It is the true expression of the World Civilization, which is capable and seeks for the return of its marbles. This is because the Parthenon Marbles speak for themselves. Therefore, the dignity of everything they represent rises to prominence. Besides, the dignity of the monuments and the symbols of the Parthenon is not an exclusively Greek petition. It is the demand of the Humanity, in which the Parthenon as well as its symbolisms belong  to.”

Research & Composition:
Dimitra Nikolopoulou
Page editorship:
Rania Dalalaki
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