UNESCO Advisory Board Urges British Museum to Return the Parthenon Marbles

UNESCO Advisory Board Urges British Museum to Return the Parthenon Marbles

A UNESCO advisory board has issued a recommendation urging the British Museum to revisit its stance on the Parthenon Marbles, which have been held by the London museum since the early 19th century despite persistent calls from the Greek government for their restitution.

According to Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property recently met in Paris and their recommendation cited, in part, “the poor conditions of exposure [display] that the sculptures are kept in at the British Museum.”

In an interview with the Greek City Times, Mendoni said that the issue “is of an intergovernmental nature—in contrast to claims from the British side that it is a matter for the British Museum—and mainly that Greece has a valid and legal claim to demand the return of the sculptures to their place of birth.”

In August, heavy rainfall in London led to water leaking into the British Museum’s Greek galleries, raising concerns over the safety of the sculpted relief panels and pedimental sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens by Lord Elgin in 1801.

The reopening of the museum’s galleries of Greek art were pushed back following a seventh-month closure due to the pandemic. In a statement, the British Museum said that “none of the sculptures have been damaged and the issue has been addressed.” As of this writing, several galleries have reopened while the galleries containing the Parthenon Marbles are expected to reopen later this year.

UNESCO’s ICPRCP committee is responsible for facilitating bilateral negotiations between countries to encourage the return and restitutions of cultural property that may have been acquired through illicit means or during periods of colonization. A spokesperson for the ICPRCP declined to comment on the decision of the advisory board, stating that the full report of its 22nd sessions will be published in October.

The British government has insisted that the Parthenon Marbles will remain in the United Kingdom. In a March interview with the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected the possibility of their return, stating that they had been acquired legally by the Scottish nobleman Lord Elgin.

In an online statement, the trustees of the British Museum say that “the sculptures on display in London convey huge public benefit as part of the museum’s worldwide collection.” The statement stresses that the Greek culture ministry has never formally requested a loan of the Parthenon sculptures, but “only for the permanent removal of all of the sculptures in its care to Athens.”

The sculptures have been held by the London institution since the early 19th century.