Reuniting the Sculptures

A historic act that will inspire future generations
Reuniting the Acropolis sculptures is the greatest act of heritage conservation awaiting action

Acropolis Museum (31 August 2012)

Why bring these classical sculptures back together

There is no greater pending act of heritage conservation than reuniting the Acropolis sculptures in Athens. It is a historic opportunity to restore the physical and conceptual dimensions of a unique monument and rebuild a cultural bridge between London and Athens. It is an opportunity to celebrate a new era of creativity, bring museum affairs to the next level and take actions aligned with today’s values of heritage, education, ethics and justice. It’s about friendship and making something great happen to broaden our view of humanity and inspire future generations.

A bit of background

In the early 19th century, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (commonly referred to as Elgin), took sculptures from the Acropolis of Athens by obscure means and shipped them to Britain. The sculptures, also known as the ‘Elgin Marbles’ but, correctly, referred to the Parthenon Sculptures, as far as the subset that was removed from the Parthenon is concerned, included a number of artistic and architectural pieces, all of which are part of the surviving ancient buildings on the Acropolis of Athens.

The Greek State has repeatedly requested from the British government and British Museum to return the sculptures to Athens to restore the physical, archaeological and conceptual integrity of the sculptural set as a single masterpiece. However, Britain refuses to return them, arguing that they were taken by Elgin with permission from the Ottoman authorities. While the argument of ownership diminishes itself, in comparison to the scientific and ethical values behind the request for the reunification, strikingly, the original official document that could prove this specific point of the British argumentation is missing. Since the late 20th century when Melina Mercouri led the idea of the return, this dispute has remained pending, affecting the cultural bond between London and Athens and creating the exact opposite effect than the message of unity that the sculptures themselves were designed to convey.

What can be done today

The argument for their reunification of the Acropolis Sculptures in Athens is that such an act would restore the physical integrity and meaning of the sculptures and let them be displayed in the correct geographical, historical, and archaeological context. Elgin’s act can be reversed today by a new Act of the English Parliament. As a goodwill gesture, Greece has previously offered to the British Museum an exchange of other artefacts, in return for the reunification of the Acropolis Sculptures.

The state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum, located at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, opened in 2009 and has the capacity to accommodate all of the Acropolis sculptures, together, in direct view of the Acropolis. Its Parthenon Gallery provides a link between the Parthenon sculptures and the Parthenon itself, presenting them in the correct layout and context. It is a modern museum with exhibitions in the last word of museum design and in natural light.

In recognition of the issue that a significant number of the Acropolis sculptures is kept in London, many political and cultural figures have campaigned for their return to Athens. Polls have shown that the majority of people supports the reunification of the Sculptures. English Parliament MPs have also campaigned for what will satisfy an international claim, highlighting the need to bring the parts of a masterpiece together. The ultimate aim is to restore the meaning of the Acropolis.

Although practicalities need to be agreed and arranged between London and Athens before the sculptures are brought to the Acropolis Museum, one thing is certain: an increasing number of people realise that reuniting the parts of the Acropolis is about culture, education, respect, and the true meaning of world heritage.

The reunification of the Acropolis scuptures is a matter of time and understanding. It’s already started.