In late 2014 I went to the marvellous Acropolis Museum at the foot of the Ancient Acropolis in Athens whilst in January 2016 I paid a visit to the Acropolis itself to get the perspective of what I had read about. You can read my account and see some photos from these visits by clicking MUSEUM and ACROPOLIS.
The thing that is missing from both are most of the Parthenon (aka Elgin) Marbles, that were brutally hacked away from the Temple of Athena Nike at the turn of the 19th century. You may have heard all the arguments for and against returning the Marbles to Athens, where a space has been reserved for them at the aforementioned Acropolis Museum.
The rationale for keeping the majority of them in London is that Lord Elgin did indeed have official permission to carve away the friezes that were sculpted out of the stone tenements of the temple. Not sculpted separately and then attached you understand, but carved straight out of the building itself. Utterly beautiful it must have looked and Elgin clearly thought that they would look lovely adorning his stately home in Britain.
The fact that permission to remove the ancient artefacts was given by the occupying Ottoman regime in Athens who did not give a fig leaf for Greek culture, should you may think weaken Britain’s right to hold onto Greece’s architectural Crown Jewels.
Especially when you also consider that Elgin gained the permission to “look after the sculptures in perpetuity” and then promptly gained financially by selling them to the British Museum where they still reside.
The counter argument is that returning the Marbles to their homeland would set a dangerous precedent for the return of other such famous artefacts and art such as the Rosetta Stone (also at the BM) to Egypt or Mona Lisa from the Louvre to Italy. I can see that argument too, it could indeed cause chaos. However, considering all the arguments I still believe that an exception should be made for the Marbles.
Enough of such politics. What is absolutely not in doubt is the remarkable beauty and intricate craftsmanship of the Marbles themselves. They depict Greek mythology, great Greek legends and heroic Greek victories in battles with Persians, Venetians and Turks. Another reason for the Ottoman authorities to be glad to be shot of them all those years ago.
They make for a wonderful free exhibition in London. I paid a visit to see for myself what all the fuss is about. Judge for yourselves.
My final word on the subject. Imagine if the Nazis had occupied London and had agreed to a request by Mussolini to dismantle Tower of Big Ben brick by brick to allow it to then be reassembled in Milan. Do you think the British would now have a valid argument for its return?