Piecing together the Acropolis sculptures

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The Acropolis consists of a number of structures, most of which were decorated with uniquely beautiful yet thematically linked sculptures. But a number of them were taken away from the Acropolis by European travellers in the 19th century. Sculptures and architectural members were removed from all four major structures  of the Acropolis: the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the temple of Athena Nike, and the Propylaea.

Today, the Acropolis sculptures remain scattered, while they only make sense as part of a single creation. 

Over the last decades, a lot of attention has been drawn, specifically, to the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures, as a case that invites a reconsideration of a past act through the prism of today's cultural values and ethics.

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Spotlight: The Parthenon sculptures

A quick description

The Parthenon sculptures consist of the sculptures of three discrete sets:

Each of them represents figures and scenes, all placed together, as a single composition in the three dimensions, conveying a certain message.  You can read about the meaning in the depictions and design of the sculptures here:

The sculptures are now divided

In the early 19th century, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin (widely known as 'Elgin') removed parts and sculptures from all of the structures of the Acropolis - i.e. from the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the temple of Athena Nike, and the Propylaea, causing the most significant damage to the Parthenon. 

Since then, the Parthenon sculptures have been scattered into pieces, at different locations, mostly in London. And, today, they continue to be far from the Acropolis and from each other.

Which sculptures were removed from the Acropolis? See the list:

The Parthenon sculptures are still scattered apart

Of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, half are in Athens while the other half are in London. Some pieces and fragments are also in other European cities (Paris, Copenhagen, Munich, Wurzburg, Vienna).  

Why reunite the Acropolis sculptures in Athens

The sculptures of the Parthenon, as in the case of the other buildings of the Acropolis, make sense as a whole: bringing them back together will restore their physical and thematic integrity and, thus, their meaning.

6 reasons


It will put them back in their original archaeological, architectural, and geographical context

Physical integrity

It will reunite all of them at the original location, as they were meant to be presented together


It will restore the message and meaning they were intended to convey through their display as a set in the heart of Athens


It will allow today's cultural values to be reflected on what is regarded to be the symbol of World Heritage


It will represent a tangible gesture of respect to a number of communities and help update our views and cultural values


It will help local and global communities develop on different levels - culture, research, education, tourism, economy, museums, relations

The public opinion is increasingly showing their support for the return of the sculptures to Athens

Watch τhe debate Send them back: The Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Athens' (Intelligence Squared Debate, Cadogan Hall, London, 11 June 2012; broadcast by the BBC)

Source: Intelligence Squared

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Acropolis sculptures and fragments already returned

Discussion stage

The reunification of the Acropolis scuptures is a matter of time and understanding.

It’s already started.

How can the reunification of the Acropolis sculptures be achieved?

The majority of the Acropolis sculptures that have been removed from Athens are currently in London. The legal changes in the UK that would allow the British Museum to return the Parthenon sculptures to Greece are the following:

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How important is the reunification of the Acropolis sculptures in Athens?

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

In a nutshell: Why bring these classical sculptures back together

There is no more symbolic 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 and understanding between London and Athens. It is an opportunity to celebrate a new era of creativity and museum ethics aligned with today’s values of heritage and education. 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 as the Acropolis or 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.

Which sculptures were removed from the Acropolis? See the list:

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 reasons behind the request for the reunification, strikingly, the original Ottoman permit invoked in the British argumentation is missing. Since the late 20th century, when Melina Mercouri brought publicity to the long-standing claim for the return of the sculptures to Athens, this dispute has remained pending. This issue continues to affect the cultural bond between London and Athens, 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 allow them to be displayed in the correct geographic, historical, and archaeological context. While the architectural damage caused by Elgin cannot be reversed, today, a new Act of the English Parliament would allow the UK to return the sculptures to complete the set with the existing counterparts in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. 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, has been open to the public since 2009 and has the capacity to accommodate all of the Acropolis sculptures together in direct view of the Acropolis. Its Parthenon Gallery provides a visual link between the Parthenon sculptures and the Parthenon itself, enabling their display in the correct sequence, layout, orientation and context. The Acropolis Museum is a purpose-built museum with exhibitions in natural light and only a short walk from the Acropolis itself.

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 meaning of world heritage.

Click here for a list of selected websites

Greek Ministry of Culture

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture

The Acropolis of Athens and the Parthenon

The Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles

The Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles (another section, in Greek)

The Memorandum of the Greek Government for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles (with nine key Appendices)

The Acropolis Museum

The Parthenon Frieze – Introduction, Tour and Stone-by-Stone Description

The Acropolis Restoration Project

Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens (Hellenic Ministry of Culture)

Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens (Project website)

Hellenic Cultural Heritage

World Heritage monuments in Greece

“The Unity of a Unique Monument” (statement by UNESCO)

Declaration of the EU parliament

Greek organisations, establishments and Initiatives

Melina Mercouri Foundation

The Parthenon Marbles – an Initiative

The Parthenon Marbles – The Acropolis Museum

Foundation of the Hellenic World

The City of Athens

The Secretariat General of Communication – Secretariat General of Information

Acropolis Friends

The Greek National Tourism Organisation: Archaeological sites and Monuments in Greece

International organisations, initiatives and campaigns

International Council of Museums (ICOM): Code of Ethics for Museums

UNESCO: “[…] the Acropolis […] can be seen as symbolizing the idea of world heritage”


The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

The American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, Inc.

‘Missing Since 1801’ campaign

Australia – for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles

The 9 Muses News blog
I am Greek I want to go home
Marbles Reunited


The International Parthenon Marbles Action Committee

The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures

Other organisations and initiatives

The Acropolis of Athens virtual tour

The Parthenon Sculpture Gallery – digital 3D Parthenon sculpture models

The Museum of Reconstructions – digital representation of buildings of the Acropolis of Athens

Ancient Athens 3D
Parthenon 3D movie highlighting how the sculptures in London are exhibited out of their context

Map of the Acropolis of Athens in Socrates and Plato’s time

Marbles with an Attitude

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