A Life in a Year – 29th August, The Elgin Marbles

‘Dull is the eye that will not weep to see

Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed

By British hands, which it had best behoved

To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.

Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,

And once again thy hapless bosom gored,

And snatch’d thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!’

 Lord Byron

At the Acropolis are the Parthenon buildings where the famous marbles used to be before Lord Elgin pillaged them for the British Empire two hundred years ago when he simply hacked the statues off the buildings with blunt instruments and saws and sent them back to the England.  Looking at the damage he did in removing them he might just as well have used dynamite!  Elgin was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who ruled Greece at that time and the Turks gave permission for the removal without consulting the subjugated Greeks.

Well, not surprisingly, now the Turkish invaders have gone (in 1821 actually), the Greek Government would rather like them back, and that seems to be a perfectly reasonable request; but the British in their retained imperial arrogance claim that the Greeks cannot possibly be trusted to look after such important antiquities and insist on keeping them in London.  Greek artists sculptured them in the first place so this is a bit of a cheek!  After all I’m not sure that we are so good at caring for our own heritage either, just look at all of the ruined castles and buildings that we haven’t looked after in this country and now have to rely upon Griff Rhys Jones and the BBC to provide renovation funding for.  Actually we haven’t looked after them that well ourselves and they have been irreparably damaged, first when they were sawn into smaller pieces to facilitate transportation and secondly when British Museum cleaning staff used inappropriate cleaning methods in the 1930’s which seriously discoloured the marble. 

To be fair it isn’t just the British Museum that has dubious ownership of important bits of Greek heritage and there are smaller plundered pieces at the Louvre in Paris and the Vatican Museum in Rome as well as other locations across Europe.

Anyway the Greeks have a cunning plan and they have built a state of the art museum with advanced environmental climate control to house the marbles that is far technologically superior to anything in London, Paris or Rome and they are now even more insistent that they should be returned.  Until they are they propose to keep empty a specially prepared room in the hope that this will shame the British into putting the plundered treasures back into their packing cases and returning them forthwith.  Good luck to the Greeks I say!  They should be sent back immediately, they belong in Athens and the Acropolis Museum and if you ask me they should be restored immediately to the temples that were built for them and in a poll carried out in 2002 fifty six percent of British people polled agreed with me.

After we left the Acropolis we walked back down the slope of the Parthenon and picked our way between olive trees and day trippers and after we left we had a good long walk round the tourist attractions in the city.




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