Marble row of Olympic proportions
By CNN's Matthew Chance
LONDON, England (CNN) -- A decades-long diplomatic dispute between Britain and Greece over a group of ancient statues shows no sign of waning as the 2004 Olympics in Athens approaches.
The artworks -- known in Britain as the Elgin Marbles and in Greece as the Parthenon Sculptures -- were taken from Greece two centuries ago by British collector Lord Elgin, London's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
The Greek government says the marbles -- now on view at the British Museum in London -- should be on display at a new museum being built in Athens in time for the Summer Games. But the British Museum and government oppose such a move.
This week dozens of members of the UK Parliament launched a new campaign for the marbles' return. The campaign is backed by actors Sean Connery, Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave.
The marbles, which once decorated the Parthenon, are remnants of an ancient world -- works of art acknowledged as a bedrock of Western civilization.
CNN recently spoke with representatives of the British Museum and the Greek government about the controversy.
"They are here because we are a major international museum, we bring the cultures of the world together, they are one of our greatest treasures," says British Museum Director Robert Anderson.
"Millions of people come to the British Museum every year to see them here in London."
"Wouldn't it be more appropriate, though to see these sculptures in the context of the Parthenon?" CNN asked Anderson. "Isn't it like seeing sections of Buckingham Palace in Athens?"
"No, the important thing is to be able to see these sculptures in excellent conditions, to study them, and to see them in relation to antiquities from other parts of the ancient world," he said.
Although the latest campaign to get the marbles back has been dismissed outright by the British government, Greece continues to argue for their return.
Last year, the Greek foreign minister renounced his country's claim of ownership of the marbles, opening the way for a possible long-term loan arrangement.
The Greek government says the public would be better served if the sculptures were displayed at home.
"Millions of people get the opportunity to come to the British Museum and see these sculptures," CNN asked Greek government spokesman Nicos Papadakis. "Why should that change?"
"That is true. But the same is absolutely valid for Athens as well," Papadakis said.
"Millions of tourists visit Athens every year. Millions of tourists go up to the Parthenon every year. And there is no doubt that millions of people will visit the new museum we are building to house these sculptures."
"What about the issue of the floodgates? If you send these sculptures back to Athens, where does it all end? Do you send the Mona Lisa back to Italy?"
"No, absolutely not. We are against that idea. We do not want to open the floodgates," Papadakis said.
"We have made it perfectly clear that we have no other claim about any other treasure being housed in any other museum in the world. We think this is a unique case."
It has been more than 2,500 years since these sculptures were first carved. But the controversy around them appears undiminished by time.
Blair rejects Elgin Marbles return
March 24, 2001
Connery call for Marbles return to Greece
January 25, 2001
British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
WORLD TOP STORIES:
Blix: 'Iraq could do more'
N. Korea warns of nuclear conflict
Serb hardliner refuses to plead
NASA: Flight-deck video found
Caracas tense after bombs
|Back to the top|