The Parthenon Marbles (also known as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Sculptures) must be the UK’s most discussed rocks. Currently housed in the British Museum, these beautiful stone carvings are at the centre of a massive diplomatic row that stretches back decades and has gathered pace in the past few weeks. The Greek government has been demanding their return since the early ’80s, so that they can be displayed as their makers intended, outside ancient Athens temple the Parthenon. But so far, the British Museum has been reluctant to release its grasp on one of its most prized exhibits.
That all changed recently, after some support from an unexpected quarter: the Times newspaper has thrown its weight behind the campaign to give the sculptures back, writing an op-ed [paywall] saying they should return home. And the Greek government is thrilled to have new supporters on board. Greek MP Tasos Chatzivasileiou said: ‘Our strategy will be to turn up the heat, to keep this issue in the public sphere and to raise it at every opportunity.’
And public opinion in the UK is increasingly behind the idea that the Parthenon Marbles should go back to Greece: a YouGov poll found that 59 percent of people surveyed thought that the 160-metre-long carved frieze belongs in Athens, in the swanky new museum that’s ready to house it.
Will the British Museum relent? If it lets the Marbles go, it could set an interesting precedent for all the other ancient artefacts it contains, many of which were collected (or plundered, depending on who you listen to) from across the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In the long wait for a decision, why not take a free trip to the British Museum to see what all the fuss is about? After all, the Northern line is a damn sight cheaper than an airfare to Greece.