ATHENS — A team of London lawyers met with the Greek government Oct. 14 to discuss potential legal action to boost Greece’s long but so far futile campaign to reclaim the 5th-century B.C. Parthenon Sculptures from Britain.
Culture Minister Costas Tassoulas said he had long discussions with the lawyers — including Amal Clooney, who recently married U.S. actor George Clooney — on how to overcome British opposition in what is the most famous cultural heritage dispute in the world.
“The issue of returning and reuniting the Parthenon Marbles is one of top importance which Greece has steadily and for a long time demanded,” Tassoulas said. “It is our duty … to do everything we can to ensure the success of that demand, which is made not only in the name of Greece but also in the name of global cultural heritage.”
The marble sculptures decorated the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis for more than 2,000 years. They were removed at the beginning of the 19th Century by Scottish nobleman Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, at a time when it was considered both fashionable and enlightened for major European powers to gather and display ancient art from other cultures with scant regard for legal niceties. They have been displayed in London’s British Museum since 1816.
Athens maintains they were illegally removed while Greece was still under Turkish occupation and should be returned for display in a new Athens museum — which the British Museum and the British government reject.
“I am extremely optimistic that a conciliatory and amicable resolution can be reached,” said Norman Palmer, one of the three London lawyers, who are to meet Oct. 15 with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. “If it cannot, then other considerations will have to be examined.”
About half the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon — which depict ancient Greek gods and a procession of citizens and priests during a religious festival — are in the purpose-built Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009 under the ancient citadel in Athens. The bulk of the rest are in the British Museum, while a scattering of fragments is held in other European cities.