UK MPs introduce bill to return Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Mark-Williams-MP-by-LIberal-Democrats

Welsh Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams. Photo: The Welsh Socialist Democratic Party.

Led by Welsh Liberal Democrat MP Mark Wiliams, the motion might pave the way for a historic turn of events

A brief history of the Parthenon Marbles Looting
The ancient temple – arguably the most important standing monument of classical Greece – had stood intact as a functioning building for centuries, but was ruined during the siege of Athens in 1687, when Francesco Morosini, captain-general of the Venetian forces, used a cannon on the site, which was used as a munitions store by the Ottomans. The explosion caused the marble roof, most of the walls, 14 columns from the north and south peristyles and carved metopes and frieze blocks to collapse, scattering ruined artwork which could be easily grabbed by looters. Morosini himself tried to remove large sculptures, but the device used broke, dropping them downhill and breaking them into pieces.

The most notorious looter was Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, who served as ‘Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of His Britannic Majesty to the Sublime Porte of Selim III, Sultan of Turkey’ between 1799 and 1803. In this capacity, in 1800, he commissioned skilled artists and modellers to make drawings and casts of the ancient monuments of Athens.

In 1801, Lord Elgin received a controversial firman from the Porte which allowed his agents not only to ‘fix scaffolding round the ancient Temple of the Idols [the Parthenon] and to mould the ornamental sculpture and visible figures thereon in plaster and gypsum’, but also ‘to take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon. Due to the loss of the original firman, it isn’t sure that the translation is correct, though an existing original Italian translation dispels the claim that this is an official document by any means.

It is now believed that Lord Elgin bribed local Ottoman authorities into permitting the removal of about half of the Parthenon frieze, 15 metopes, and 17 pedimental fragments, in addition to a caryatid and a column from the Erechtheion, upon his departure from the Ottoman Empire in 1803. Lord Elgin’s agents performed excavations on the site, retrieving sculptures, but the actual removal was a decision taken on the spot by Philip Hunt, Elgin’s chaplain (and temporary private secretary, i.e. representative, in Athens), who persuaded the voivode (governor of Athens) to interpret the terms of the firman very broadly.

The excavation and removal went on after Lord Elgin’s departure and was completed in 1812; it cost him about £70,000. At first, he used the antiquities to decorate his mansion in Scotland, but later on, as his fortune waned, he tried selling them to the British Museum, to no avail. Then, on 11 July, 1816, the House of Commons granted the purchase of the ‘Marbles’ by Great Britain for £35,000, considerably below their cost to Elgin, and deposited them in the British Museum. Many opposed the British parliament thus sanctioning the improper removal, not least among them Lord Byron, who deemed Lord Elgin a “vandal”.

Talks for the return of the ‘Parthenon Marbles’ to Greece began in the aftermath of the creation of the modern Greek state, to limited support. A consistent campaign for the return of the ‘Parthenon Marbles’ to its rightful place has been ongoing for decades, becoming the official Greek government stance since 1983, when then Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri committed to the cause.

After the opening of the new and widely acclaimed Acropolis Museum in Athens, which hosts most of the original sculptures (they are replaced on site with high quality replicas, for fear of further corrosion), the campaign has gained momentum. Supporters of the cause seem to think that the time has come for the Parthenon Marbles to return to Greece – and the ongoing crisis has only augmented the voices of support, as this is regarded as something that would boost the economy.

The full text of the draft legislation is as follows:

Parthenon Sculptures (Return to Greece) Bill

CONTENTS
1 Return of the Parthenon Sculptures
2 Amendment of the British Museum Act 1963
3 Other artefacts
4 Short title and commencement

A BILL TO Make provision for the transfer of ownership and return to Greece of the artefacts known as the Parthenon Sculptures, or Elgin Marbles, purchased by Parliament in 1816; to amend the British Museum Act 1963 accordingly; and for connected purposes.

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

1 Return of the Parthenon Sculptures
(1)Ownership of the collection of artefacts known as the ‘Parthenon Sculptures’, or the ‘Elgin Marbles’, is transferred to the government of the Hellenic Republic, subject only to subsections (2) and (4).

(2)The artefacts comprising the collection in subsection (1) shall be determined by the Secretary of State by regulation.

(3)Before making a determination under subsection (2), the Secretary of State must consult—
(a)the Trustees of the British Museum,
(b)representatives of the Government of the Hellenic Republic, and
(c)any other person, body or institution that the Secretary of State believes to be appropriate.

(4)Subsection (1) has effect on the coming into force of an agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Hellenic Republicin which terms are agreed relating to—
(a)arrangements for the suitable transportation of the collection determined under subsection (2);
(b)responsibility for the costs of such transportation;
(c)arrangements and conditions for the maintenance and display of the collection; and
(d)access to the collection for:
(i)experts
(ii)students, and
(ii)members of the public.

(5)The power to—
(a) make regulations under subsection (2), or
(b) enter into an agreement under subsection (4)
is exercisable by statutory instrument which may only be made after a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

2 Amendment of the British Museum Act 1963
(1)In section 5 of the British Museum Act 1963 (disposal of objects), after subsection (4) insert—
“(5)Nothing in this section may be interpreted as applying to an artefact that—
(a)has been determined to be part of the collection under section 1(1) of the Parthenon Sculptures (Return to Greece) Act 2016, or
(b)is under active consideration by the Secretary of State for determination as to whether or not the artefact is part of that collection.”

(2)In section 9 of the British Museum Act 1963 (transfers to other institutions) after subsection (1) insert—
“(2)Nothing in this section may be interpreted as applying to an artefact that—
(a)has been determined to be part of the collection under section 1(1) of the Parthenon Sculptures (Return to Greece) Act 2016, or
(b)is under active consideration by the Secretary of State for determination as to whether or not the artefact is part of that collection.”

3 Other artefacts
Nothing in this Act shall be interpreted as applying to any artefact forming part of a collection within a national museum or gallery other than the artefacts mention in section 1.

4 Short title and commencement
(1)This Act may be cited as the Parthenon Sculptures (Return to Greece) Act 2016.

(2)This Act comes into force on the day after the day on which it receives Royal Assent.

Source: Neos Kosmos

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One response to “UK MPs introduce bill to return Parthenon Marbles to Greece

  1. Finally! Some progress, and the first indication that there’s actually solid hope now that Cameron no longer resides in 10 Downing street. I’ve been waiting for this forever, just like all the Greeks, of course. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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