Ministry focuses on repatriating treasures from around the world

Much of the Culture Ministry’s present activities are to be focused on repatriating antiquities. Voulgarakis declared last July, «We are reclaiming Greek antiquities that are in different parts of the world.» The general feeling that «these antiquities are ours» will be highlighted in an interesting exhibition to be hosted shortly at the new wing of the Benaki Museum on Pireos Street. «The Looting of History,» from Nicosia, is a journey that marks important milestones in the looting of antiquities from Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the world; from the plundering of the Parthenon Marbles in 1801 by Lord Elgin to looting in Nigeria, where 45 percent of the country’s antiquities have been carried off, and further plundering in Peru, Sicily, Baghdad and Cyprus. The return of a Mycenaean collection of stamps and jewelry, the so-called «Treasure of Aidonia» was Greece’s first victory in its attempts to recover antiquities illegally smuggled out of Greece. The images of the 312 artifacts (dating back to 1500-1400 BC) and in particular the striking gold rings, were circulated around the globe. Repeated looting Another success was scored when 271 artifacts stolen from the Archaeological Museum of Corinth were repatriated (with a few losses) to Greece. Corinth has repeatedly been a victim of illegal digs and looting. The looting of the Corinth museum was a severe blow to Greece’s cultural heritage. Nevertheless a stolen treasure of 53 pieces of Neolithic jewelry was brought to the notice of the international experts who traced and seized the treasure from the hands of the looters in 1997. For over a decade, from 1993 to 2003, the authorities have traced 14,000 ancient artifacts, most of them of unknown origin, representing 1,207 looting incidents. Of the 827 robbers, 187 were foreigners and 640 Greeks. Culture Ministry statistics show looting continues: Seven thefts of antiquities took place in 2000 and nine artifacts were carried off; in 2001 looting incidents increased to 10 with 35 items stolen, and in 2002 there were six incidents with seven antiquities missing. In 2005, there were 21 cases in the first eight months and many incidents have been recorded so far in 2006.