Greek president brands British Museum a ‘murky prison’ for Elgin Marbles

The president of Greece has branded the British Museum a “murky prison”, reiterating calls for the Elgin Marbles to be restored to Athens.

Prokopis Pavlopoulos said Greece was engaged in “a holy battle” for the return of the classical reliefs and figures, which were taken from the country by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century.

He said the Parthenon Museum, which looks out onto the Acropolis in the centre of Athens, was a more fitting place for the Marbles to be kept in their entirety.

“Let the British Museum come here and make the comparison between this museum of light and the murky, if I may say, prison of the British Museum where the Parthenon Marbles are held as trophies," President Pavlopoulos said during a speech delivered at the museum.

"This museum can host the Marbles. We are fighting a holy battle for a monument which is unique," the head of state said.

Greece has been calling for Britain to relinquish its share of the Elgin Marbles ever since it gained independence in 1832.

Britain had long argued that Greece had nowhere appropriate to keep the Marbles, but that argument dissolved when the modernistic, light-filled Parthenon Museum opened in 2009.

The sculptures once adorned the Parthenon, which was built on top of the Acropolis in the fifth century BC in honour of the goddess Athena.

The British Museum argues that the Marbles were legally acquired from Ottoman authorities by Lord Elgin, Britain’s ambassador, between 1801 and 1805, at a time when Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire.

The British Museum argues that the marbles were legally acquired from Ottoman authorities by Lord Elgin, Britain’s ambassador, between 1801 and 1805, at a time when Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Its long-standing position is that the Marbles are part of world heritage and are viewed by a huge audience in London, where they have been on permanent display since 1817.

“The Parthenon sculptures are shown as the great achievement of ancient Athens and are seen by up to six million visitors from around the world every year, free of charge,” a spokesperson told The Telegraph.

"The Parthenon sculptures in London allow the cultural achievement of the ancient Greeks to be seen in the context of world history.

“The Trustees remain convinced that the current locations of the Parthenon sculptures (in London and Athens) allow 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."

The Greeks retain about 40 per cent of the sculptures, with the rest divided between the British Museum and other institutions such as the Louvre in Paris, the Vatican Museums in Rome and the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Last year President Pavlopoulos appealed to Prince Charles to support the return of the Marbles, during an official visit to Athens by the Prince of Wales.

Close ties between Britain and Greece should form the basis for a resolution of the 200-year-old issue, he argued.

“It is precisely because of this long-standing tradition that we aspire to see the return of the Parthenon Marbles, in order to restore the unity of this glorious cradle of our civilisation,” the president said.

Prince Charles side-stepped the demand, telling a gala dinner held in his honour: “We are all Greeks.”

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