Behind a Centuries-Old International Feud Over Marbles
"All of this marble is in London," says Dimitrios Pandermalis, reluctantly gesturing to an entire wall of plaster copies of art that used to be on the Parthenon.
The president of the Acropolis Museum is clearly tired of rehashing to another foreign journalist the 200-year-old fight between Greece and the United Kingdom. But he knows and believes the script entirely: “It’s a crime,” the elder curator tells me in the glass-walled museum at the foot of the ancient citadel. “It’s important to have the originals here. It’s one unit.”
That so-called crime, as most Greeks still refer to it, was when from 1801 and 1805 the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire detached, cut, crowbarred, and hauled half of the surviving marble art from the Parthenon back to his residence in London. Since the Ottomans ruled Athens at the time—and for around 350 years before—he supposedly got permission from the proper authorities to have at it. They just so happened to have not been Greek. In financial trouble, the ambassador, named Lord Elgin, finally sold the pieces to the British government in 1816. They were then transferred to the British Museum, and have been there ever since.