In case you were unaware, just about half of the marble frieze that once decorated the top of the Parthenon is actually in London, in the British Museum.
Who is saying what
There are many who still support the UK’s position on keeping the stone, including Professor of Art at Stanford University, Professor John Merryman. He proposes that since Athens had been occupied since 1460 that the Ottomans had the rights to the stone and could give or sell whatever they wanted. source
Most Greeks and many others throughout the years have argued the contrary. It’s been explained that the Turks had no right to dismantle the ancient site that had existed nearly 1,000 years before the Ottoman Empire was even conceived by Osman I.
It’s as if someone invaded your house, destroyed your hand sculpted statue, then bargained the pieces away to someone in your neighborhood. Greece, especially having regained its independence in 1821, wants the pieces of it’s sculpture back. Hint, hint England.
The Mission: get your U.S. representative to cosponsor House Concurrent Resolution 51
On May 2, 2017 Congress introduced in the house a resolution that, “expresses the sense of the Congress that the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Greece.”
The resolution was introduced by Carolyn B. Maloney and originally cosponsored by Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr.
How did the Parthenon lose its marbles
After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the Parthenon was turned into a mosque (per Ottoman fashion, see Hagia Sophia).
The Ottomans later stored vast amounts of ammunition in the Greek temple which ignited and exploded during Venetian bombardment on September 26, 1687. The Parthenon was pulverized and to this day it lays in ruin after the carelessness that occurred centuries ago.
Painting of explosion caused by Francesco Morosini’s canons 1687 image source
In 1801, pieces of the strewn marble were taken by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, who was at the time an ambassador of England during the Ottoman occupation of Athens.
The Sultan had no sentimental ties to the Parthenon and allowed Lord Elgin to remove massive amounts of stone as he pleased.
It’s been argued that Lord Elgin took advantage of the fact that the Ottomans militarily occupied Athens at the time.
Originally, Lord Elgin “planned to decorate his house in Scotland” with the marble. source: nytimes.com
A portrait depicting the Elgin Marbles in a temporary Elgin Room at the British Museum surrounded by museum staff, a trustee and visitors, 1819 source: Archibald Archer
However, its been said, a costly divorce forced Lord Elgin to settle his debts leading him to hastily sell the stone to the British government at a low price.
The British government then placed them in a museum for safe keeping and has since made a long term profit on the exhibit.
The current state of affairs
Detail of the West metopes, illustrating the current condition of the temple in detail after 2,500 years of war, pollution, erratic conservation, pillage and vandalism source: image
Britain’s position: The Trustees have remained convinced that “the current division allows different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures, highlighting their significance for world culture and affirming the universal legacy of ancient Greece.” source: britishmuseum.org
Many detractors say the UK is housing pillaged goods at the British Museum and would like to see the stones returned to their rightful place.
Athens has half and England has the other half
The case had been made that since the area of Greece had been suffering from constant battle for centuries England was better equipped to preserve the stones.
This seemed like a sound enough point to many bystanders until the opening of the Acropolis Museum in 2009.
Today the Acropolis museum houses half of the Parthenon frieze along side a manufactured copy of the other half that sits in England.
The original marble (darker brown) next to a (white) copy of the originals which exist in the British Museum.
Now that there is a proper place to house the other half of the frieze many Greeks are more adamant then ever that the stones should be rejoined.
Voice your opinion now
If in fact you would like to see the ancient artwork returned for the first time in centuries you can call your state representative and ask them to cosponsor House Concurrent Resolution 51 regarding the Parthenon Marbles.
The link below will show you who is currently cosponsoring the resolution.
British Museum displaying half of the original Parthenon frieze. Image Source: CC BY-SA 2.0