NEWS

Greece mulled buying Acropolis marbles from Britain

Greece’s Bavarian-born King Otto considered offering Britain cash or antiquities in the 19th century in exchange for marbles removed from the Acropolis, previously unpublished historical files have shown.

“There is a document to the foreign ministry, subsequently forwarded to Otto’s minister in London, with instructions on how to request the marbles back,» Acropolis Museum director Demetrios Pantermalis told a conference on Monday.

“There was a discussion on what should be offered in exchange, and the throne asked how much the marbles would cost on the European art market, possibly with the notion of purchasing them,» Pantermalis said, according to the semi-state Athens News Agency.

The talks involved the return of architectural elements from the Parthenon and Athena Nike temples dedicated to Athens’s protecting goddess, which had been removed some four decades earlier on the orders of British ambassador Lord Elgin.

“There was a royal proposal for Greece to offer some antiquities of secondary importance in return for the Athena Nike sculptures,» Pantermalis said.

The official documents, dating from between 1834 and 1842, were penned two years after Otto ascended the Greek throne under supervision of Britain, France and Russia, who had earlier helped liberate the country from the Ottoman Empire.

The marbles were shipped to London and were eventually put on display at the British Museum where they remain to this day.

The British Museum has turned down successive Greek calls for their return, arguing that the sculptures are part of a world heritage and are more accessible to visitors in London.

Inaugurated in June 2009, the new Acropolis Museum includes a section reserved for the disputed collection. [AFP]