A model of the new Acropolis Museum is on display at the site of the building, in Athens on Friday, Nov. 25, 2005. The museum is due to be completed by the end of next year in the hope of housing the Parthenon Sculptures also known as the Elgin Marbles which are currently at the British Museum in London. PHOTO - TASR/AP
LONDON - Britain should
not return the Elgin Marbles to Athens because Greece has a lamentable record of caring for its Parthenon treasures, a leading archaeologist says in a new book. "I think they have to start looking after what they have," said Dorothy King. "Most of the Parthenon sculpture in Athens isn't on display and hasn't been cared for." Britain's refusal to give back the treasures, known in Greece as the Parthenon marbles, has been a contentious issue in Anglo-Greek relations for nearly 200 years.
The series of statues and fragments were taken from the Parthenon temple in the early 19th century by British ambassador Lord Elgin who sold them to the British Museum in London. Greeks see Elgin as a sinister figure, who bribed the then Ottoman authorities to raid the Acropolis and whisk away part of Greece's identity. Archaeologists restoring the Parthenon say his rushed operation caused great damage to the marble temple. Since its independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly requested the return of the marbles. Recent attempts to get the marbles back, initially revived by Greek actress turned culture minister Melina Mercouri in 1982, have gathered support in Britain with such vociferous backers as Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave.
King is firmly opposed even to loaning the marbles exhibit to Greece. "It is not an option. What are we going to do -- send in the SAS (British commandos) to bring it back. If we loan it, it is not going to come back." King, who studied classics at King's College, London where she did her PhD on Greek architectural sculpture, rejects the argument that Britain's refusal to return the marbles is an arrogant echo of its imperial past. She says the marbles are well preserved, well cared for and accessible to all free of charge in the British Museum. In contrast, she says the Parthenon sculptures in Athens are mostly in poor condition, continuing to disintegrate and accessible only to specialists.
The Greeks refute such charges, saying they are well capable of caring for their own antiquities. King is also implacably opposed to the building of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens on the site of an early Christian site. The museum, long delayed and expected to finish in 2008, is being
especially built to house the marbles. "I am not being rude about the Greeks," she insisted. "But I think various Greek governments have made it into
a political issue which they
shouldn't have. I have objections to the way the Greeks are very nationalistic about it. I don't like the way they have become this symbol of Greek superiority. The world has become multi-cultural."