Vatican Parthenon Marbles to return to Greece

9 Mar

It's a significant move that some hope could pave way for other remnants of the 160-meter-long (520-foot) frieze of the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis to be returned to Athens.


The three pieces in the Vatican museum's collection have been there since the 19th century. Now, they're finally making their way back to Athens after a transportation deal was finalized, said the Vatican. The marble fragments will arrive later in the month, with a ceremony planned to receive them on March 24, Associated Press reported. 

One is fragment is the head of a horse that was pulling Athena's chariot in the frieze. Another depicts the head of a young boy, believed to be taking part in a procession to commemorate the founding of Athens. The third piece is the head of a bearded male, according to the Vatican News website.

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In December 2022, Pope Francis gave them to Ieronymos II, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, "as a concrete sign of his sincere desire to follow in the ecumenical path of truth,'' according to the Vatican. Similarly, in January, another fragment of the Parthenon sculptures depicting the foot of a goddess was returned to Athens by the Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo, Sicily. 

Give back the Parthenon Marbles to Athens?

Such prominent museums returning fragments to Athens sends a strong signal about the reunification of all surviving pieces of the Parthenon frieze. The main debate revolves around the British Museum, which has pieces of the frieze at the centerpiece of its collection in London.

The 2,500-year-old sculptures, commonly referred to as the Parthenon Marbles or "Elgin Marbles" have been at the center of the British Museum's collection since 1832. Greek authorities have long been campaigning for their return, claiming the items were acquired under murky circumstances.

The British Museum, meanwhile, says they were acquired legally and should remain in the UK. Some scholars following the topic have gone as far as calling the decades-long discussion, the original restitution debate.

Discussions ongoing, but little outlook to action

The pieces on the frieze in London, which depict scenes from Greek mythology, make up roughly half of the surviving fragments of the Parthenon. They were taken under order by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople, which controlled Athens until 1832. His staff began removing them from the Acropolis in 1801 and later sold them to the British government, along with hundreds of other antique items taken from Athens.

Many other marble sculpture fragments of the frieze are currently in the Athens Acropolis Museum, which opened its doors in 2009. Presently, legal barriers make it difficult for the marbles to be returned to Athens. The British Museum Act of 1963 prevents the British Museum from permanently removing objects from its collections, with only a few exceptions.

In January, the UK's new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said there were no plans to change such a law. Meanwhile, The British Museum confirmed in January that "constructive discussions" with Greek authorities related to a return — potentially a loan to Athens were "ongoing."


Author Sarah Hucal

Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

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