Greece and United Kingdom agreed start official negotiations on the possible return of the Parthenon marbles to their country of origin, UNESCO said on Tuesday.
On the eve of International Museum Day, celebrated on May 18, UNESCO unexpectedly announced that Greece and the UK had finally agreed to hold official negotiations on the possible return of ancient sculptures that have been stored in the British Museum for more than 200 years.
The potential reunification of the Parthenon marbles was announced by the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation, or ICPRCP, which opened its 23rd session in Paris this week.
According to announcement by UNESCOa meeting proposed on 29 April by the UK was accepted by Greece and will be organized “in due course”.
The news comes as Greece has recently stepped up its efforts to repatriate the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum, where they are currently on display.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised the issue of the sculptures during a meeting with his British counterpart Boris Johnson in London last November. In response to Johnson confirmed the UK government’s official position that the sculptures belong to the British Museum, which operates under a board of trustees independent of government oversight.
Greek schoolchildren in the British Museum. February 6, 2020.
Sculptures created between 447-432 BC, consist of a frieze depicting the procession of the Panathenaic festival dedicated to the birthday of the Greek goddess Athena, as well as several metopes and figures from the pediments of the temple. In total, the British Museum owns 15 metopes, 17 pediment figures and a 247-foot portion of the original frieze, all of which the institution claims were acquired legally during the time when Greece was under Ottoman rule.
Greece’s efforts to repatriate the facilities have been ongoing since 1983, but efforts have intensified in recent years. Since then, several proposals have been made to return the Parthenon marble to Greece, including one from actor and philhellene Stephen Fry.
Fry suggested that 3D printed copies of the Pentelic marble could be donated to the British Museum and augmented reality would be used to show visitors how the authentic pieces were brought back to Athens.
A lover of classical antiquity, Fry wrote a series of books retelling Greek myths. He said that a million Athenians would take to the streets to welcome the sculptures of the house, as they are part of the essence of Athens.
In April 2021, following a decision by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, he was awarded the Commander of the Order of the Phoenix at the Greek Embassy in London for his contribution to increasing knowledge of Greece in the UK and strengthening ties between the two countries.
Whether such proposals will be discussed at a formal meeting has not yet been reported.