Greece’s newly opened Acropolis Museum is certainly a wondrous spectacle on a wondrous landmark. However, the new museum is just as much a political turn in a giant chess battle to return historically significant fragments of the Parthenon‘s frieze back to the rightful and original owners. $200 million museum showcases various sculptures and artifacts from the Acropolis.
However, since the fall of Hellenistic Greece and its subsequent 1,800 years under foreign occupation, many of the treasures of the Acropolis have been looted and institutionalized in other national collections. Since the modern era, Greece has been embroiled in a saga with the British Museum over the return of 2,500 year old looted sculptures.
Politically, Greece’s aim may be to cast England in a negative light over the theft of some artifacts 200 years ago. The British Museum owns 75 meters of the original 160 meters of the Parthenon’s frieze. This includes dozens upon dozens of marble relief sculptures, including the one pictured above. The 75 meters was taken from Greece by Lord Elgin around the turn of the 19th century when it was under the rule of the Ottoman empire. Elgin then had those artifacts sold to the British Museum in 1817. The British Museum is refusing to return the property to Greece, instead offering to loan the pieces, which the Acropolis Museum has refused.
The British promptly responded. At the Museum’s opening, there were no government representatives from the UK, and Britain’s only guest remained convinced that the marble statues were serving an important international context by remaining in London. Many individuals are deriding the UK, as other nations including Italy and the Vatican have returned looted sculptures to Greece for display in the Acropolis Museum. The current situation is just another call for the statues’ return, and Britain’s refusal to comply only extends this saga into the future.