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World’s momentum growing for Parthenon Marbles’ return March 20, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Arts Museums, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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World’s momentum is growing for the return of the prized Parthenon marbles, taken from the Athens Acropolis some 200 years ago by Britain’s Lord Elgin, as major Museums handed back more ancient objects.

Museums around the world have in recent years started returning ancient artefacts to their countries of origin and have tightened checks on acquisitions to avoid buying objects that were illegally excavated or smuggled abroad.

20-03-08_acropolis_new_museum.jpg  “More and more Museums are adopting tighter ethics codes and governments promote bilateral and international cooperation (for the return of ancient objects),” Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis told an international conference at the new Acropolis Museum. “So an ideal momentum is being created … for clear solutions on this issue,” he said.

The trend towards returning artefacts was strengthened by the high-profile affair involving former J. Paul Getty Museum curator Marion True and smuggled artefacts that were acquired by the Museum. Italy dropped a legal case against the Getty Museum last year after the institution agreed to return 40 items Rome believed had been stolen and smuggled out of the country, and the Getty has returned several such items to Greece. Both Italy and Greece have charged True with offences linked to trafficking in antiquities. She denies any wrongdoing. New York’s Metropolitan Museum has returned a prized 2,500-year-old vase to Italy, which recently displayed nearly 400 looted ancient objects that have been recovered in the past three years.

20-03-08_parthenon_marbles.jpg  The Parthenon marble friezes and sculptures were removed [stolen] from the Acropolis above Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, with permission from the Ottoman Empire officials then in power. Lord Elgin acquired his collection between 1801 and 1810. It was bought by the British Museum in 1816. The Museum refuses to return them to Greece on the ground that its statutes do not allow it to do so.

Liapis told the conference “This museum is ready to embrace all important artefacts taken from the sacred rock of the Acropolis and I hope the same goes for the foreign-based Parthenon marbles… so the unity of the sculptures can be restored.”

Britain said for many years that the marbles were better preserved in London than in Athens’ polluted air. Greece has said this argument is now obsolete given the completion of the new Acropolis state-of-the-art Museum, where an empty gallery awaits the Parthenon marbles.


Athens conference told of artifacts looted March 19, 2008

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Antiquities smuggling is helping to finance terror > Athens conference told of artifacts looted in war-torn regions

19-03-08_entrance_new_acropolis_museum.jpg  The entrance of the new Acropolis Museum, which this week hosted a UNESCO-organized conference on the return of antiquities to their country of origin. The fate of antiquities looted from Iraq was in the spotlight yesterday at a UNESCO-sponsored conference in Athens on the return of cultural property.

When Baghdad fell to the US-led coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein, the world watched in horror as looters ransacked the museum that housed some of the nation’s most prized treasures. Today, trafficking of stolen Iraqi antiquities is helping to finance al-Qaida in Iraq and Shiite militias, according to the US investigator who led the probe into the looting of the National Museum.

United States Marine Reserve Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney called up to duty shortly after 9/11, said that while kidnappings and extortion remain insurgents’ main source of funds, the link between terrorism and antiquities smuggling has become “undeniable.”

“The Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan,” Bogdanos told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. “Well, they don’t have opium in Iraq. What they have is an almost limitless supply of antiquities. And so they’re using antiquities.”

The murky world of antiquities trafficking extends across the globe and is immensely lucrative, private collectors can pay tens of millions of dollars for the most valuable artifacts. It’s almost impossible to put an authoritative monetary value on Iraqi antiquities. But as an indication, the colonel said one piece looted from the National Museum – an 8th-century-BC Assyrian ivory carving of a lioness attacking a Nubian boy, overlaid with gold and inlaid with lapis lazuli – could sell for $100 million.

Bogdanos, 51, an amateur boxer with a master’s degree in classics who won the Bronze Star fighting in Afghanistan, said it was not until late 2004 “that we saw the use of antiquities in funding initially the Sunnis and al-Qaida in Iraq, and now the Shiite militias.”

Although security has improved dramatically in Iraq since mid-2007, the country is still violence-ridden, and it is all but impossible for Iraq’s 1,500 archaeological guards to protect the country’s more than 12,000 archaeological sites.

“Unauthorized excavations are proliferating throughout the world, especially in conflict zones,” Francoise Riviere, the assistant director-general of UNESCO’s cultural branch, said at the conference. She said UNESCO was deeply concerned about the “decimation” of Iraq’s cultural heritage. “The damage inflicted on the National Museum in Baghdad, the increasingly precarious state and the systematic pillage of sites are alarming facts which are a great challenge to the international community,” Riviere said.

Bahaa Mayah, an adviser to Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told the conference that looters sometimes use heavy machinery to dig up artifacts – destroying the site while they loot. He decried a lack of cooperation among some European countries, which he refused to name, in returning trafficked goods seized from smugglers. “We are facing now, especially in Europe, tremendous difficulties in recovering our objects that are seized,” he said.

Bogdanos said smuggling networks did not appear with or after the war. “It’s a pre-existing infrastructure; looting’s been going on forever.”

But it was in the days after the fall of Baghdad in March 2003 that the National Museum was looted. The United States came under intense criticism for not protecting the museum, a treasure trove of antiquities. Bogdanos said that according to the latest inventories, a total of about 15,000 artifacts were stolen. Of those, about 4,000 have been returned to the museum, and a total of about 6,000 have been recovered.

Much of the museum’s looting was carried out by insiders and senior government officials of the time, said Bogdanos, who co-authored a book about the investigation, “Thieves of Baghdad” with William Patrick. Royalties from the book are donated to the museum. Bogdanos said not enough is being done by organizations such as UNESCO to protect Iraq’s heritage. “There’s no other way to say it. There’s a vacuum at the top,” he said.

When, not if, the Parthenon Marbles return October 21, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Arts Museums, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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crane_at_acropolis.jpg  A crane transferring a crate of antiquities from the old to the new Acropolis Museum.

The Acropolis is “missing the Marbles,” was the headline of a story in the Christian Science Monitor by Nicole Itano, in a report on the beginning of a large-scale operation last week to move tons of antiquities from the Acropolis to the new Museum at its foot.

cranes_moving.jpg  At 9 a.m. sharp last Sunday, a 2.3-ton marble sculpture was the first of 4,500 works of art that will be moved over the next three months. The new Museum, however, will be better known for what is missing from it rather than for what it contains. For when it opens to the public next year, the celebrated Parthenon Marbles, also known as the “Elgin Marbles” after the British member of the nobility who made off with them in the 19th century, will still be missing.

Nearly 200 years later, the British Museum still has about half of the extant Parthenon sculptures. Greece hopes that the new Museum will put more pressure on London to return them. The latest battle to have the marbles returned dates back to 1982, when the then Culture Minister, actress Melina Mercouri, speaking at a UN conference, called for their return.

The Christian Science Monitor quoted Anthony Snodgrass, a retired professor of classical archaeology at Cambridge University and Chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. “One of the arguments in the past that was always used was, if only Athens had a proper exhibition space for the marbles and if only the Greeks showed themselves able to look after and exhibit the marbles satisfactorily, it would be a different matter,”… “Now everybody will be able to see for themselves what is being perpetuated by keeping the two halves of the marbles apart. And this will be graphically displayed in the new Museum.”

The US-based Swiss architect who designed the Museum, Bernard Tschumi, said the missing marbles were “central to his design.” As for the British Museum, its spokesperson Hannah Boulton, told the newspaper that “the very purpose of the British Museum is to present a unique overview of world civilization, and the Parthenon Marbles are an integral part of that.”

Germany’s Deutsche Welle press review, and Austria’s daily Die Presse both carried extensive reports on the importance of the new Museum. It is clear that Greece is not alone in seeking the return of its cultural treasures. Meanwhile, Jules Dassin, the President and soul of the Melina Mercouri Foundation, which was instrumental in realizing the new Museum, said nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.

New Acropolis Museum October 12, 2007

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the_new_acropolis_museum.jpg  Workers clean the windows of the new Acropolis Museum, designed by US-based architect Bernard Tschumi, as it braces for the transfer of thousands of precious artifacts, starting Sunday 14 October.

Three cranes will be used for the delicate operation that is expected to last at least 38 days. A test run was scheduled today. Controversy persists over plans to demolish two listed buildings on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, near the Museum’s entrance, which partly block the view to the Parthenon.

New drive for return of the Parthenon Marbles October 6, 2007

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Greece should use the opening of its new Acropolis Museum to ratchet up the pressure on Britain for the permanent return of the Parthenon Marbles to their homeland, the head of an international campaign said yesterday.

The 2,500-year-old sculptures and friezes were removed from Greece in the early 19th century by British diplomat Lord Elgin and successive British governments have refused to return them despite a campaign launched by Greece in the early 1980s.

parthenon_marbles1.jpg  “What we would like to see is the Greek government to elevate this as an issue in bilateral relations between Britain and Greece,” said David Hill of the International Organization for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles after meeting Greece’s new Culture Minister Michalis Liapis.

The 129-million-euro Museum, originally slated for completion before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, was delayed for legal reasons and by new archaeological discoveries on the site at the foot of the famed Acropolis Hill. With 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) of space, the facility is expected to display about 4,000 works, 10 times the number at the old hilltop Museum it replaces. A top-level, glassed-in gallery has been designed to hold the Marbles, if and when they are returned, while offering an unobstructed view of the Acropolis.

Curators will start transferring hundreds of antiquities to the new Museum by crane on October 14, although the new Museum is not due to start opening until next year, with the completed galleries open by 2009.

Liapis told reporters that “the reunification of the Marbles is an historical necessity… with the return of antiquities to the Museum in a few days, it gives us new optimism and perspective.” Athens now proposes that the Marbles, currently kept at the British Museum in London, are returned through a long-term loan.

parthenon_marbles2.jpg  Hill said he hoped that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would prove more accommodating than his predecessor Tony Blair. Hill said the new Museum would allow the Marbles to be presented much better than in London. “The Museum is the best argument for the return of the Marbles, and is arguably one of the most significant new buildings in Greece for 2,000 years. It is of enormous significance, not only to Greece but to the world.”

Acropolis artifacts to be moved to the New Museum October 3, 2007

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Swaddled in white drop cloths, hundreds of sculptural masterpieces from the Acropolis are waiting to be delicately lifted by crane to a new, glass and concrete Museum nearing completion at the foot of the ancient citadel.

acropolis_artifacts2.jpg  In just a few days, on October 14, officials plan to start whisking some 4,500 artifacts from the old, cramped Acropolis Museum. It will be the first time the artifacts, some of which are considered among the most important works of antiquity, have been moved from the site. A trial run will be held next week.

The first piece to make the 400-meter journey will be a 2.5-ton marble block from the Parthenon frieze, a 2,500-year-old sculpted strip depicting a religious procession that ran around the ancient temple just below roof level.

“This is one of the biggest and the least fragmented of all the blocks in the frieze”, senior conservator Dimitris Maraziotis told The Associated Press. Supervising engineer Costas Zambas said the transfer will take at least a month and a half, although bad weather could prolong the operation. It will cost 2.5 million euros.

acropolis_artifacts1.jpg  Using three cranes up to 50 meters high, a team of 35 workers will relay the priceless artifacts, mostly from the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., off the Acropolis hill into the purpose-built new Museum.

“Every single part of the operation will be difficult and requires great care” said Zambas, a veteran of the long-running Acropolis restoration project who was involved in removing the remaining sculptures from the Erechtheion and Parthenon temples for display in the old Museum.

Wearing padded harnesses, the sculptures will be hoisted into styrofoam-filled boxes made of plywood and metal. Each crate will take up to 2½ hours to reach the new Museum, traveling just a few meters above ground level, according to Zambas. Up to four crates will make the trip every day.

acropolis_artifacts3.jpg  Beyond the creation of an architectural landmark in its own right, there are political aims behind the long-delayed 129 million euros Museum. Greece hopes the new building’s top-level display conditions might propel the country’s decades-old campaign to regain the Parthenon Marbles, stolen 200 years ago by Lord Elgin, a British diplomat, and currently on display at the British Museum. The London museum refuses to return the works, but Greece has proposed that they should be displayed in Athens, alongside the remaining sections, as a long-term loan.

Initially scheduled for completion before the 2004 Athens Olympics, the new, 20,000-square meter Museum was delayed by legal fights and new archaeological discoveries at the site, many of which will be visible under glass floors. It will contain more than 4,000 works, 10 times the number on display in the old Museum. The two-story building was designed by U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Greece’s Michalis Photiadis.

The building will be capped by a glass hall containing the Parthenon sculptures. The glass walls will allow visitors a direct view of the ancient temple. The new Museum is expected to open in sections next year, but the full collections will go on view before 2009.

New Acropolis Museum nearly ready September 28, 2007

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Acropolis sculptures due to start arriving at new home in mid-October

The task of transferring antiquities from the old Museum on the Acropolis to the new Acropolis Museum starts on October 14. Though the official opening has been scheduled, the new Museum venue is not far from completion and we can expect many celebrations in the interim. We will see official openings at every phase of the project.

In any case, as repeatedly pointed out by Organization for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum President Dimitris Pantermalis, the new Museum must be accessible to the public. And the best way to attract them is to bring them in while the exhibition spaces are still being prepared.

Empty as it was on Monday during the visit of newly appointed Culture Minister Michalis Liapis, the Museum looked vast, but also friendly to the visitors who will file in, as well as to the thousands of exhibits that will no longer be crammed into a tiny space as they are in the old location.

The glass floors on the ground floor that highlight the antiquities discovered in recent years are the first thing that strikes the visitor, not only because the finds were not destroyed but because they are showcased so effectively. That impression is enhanced by the rest of the Museum, where glass walls seem to lengthen the distance to the ground, with almost dizzying effect.

The greatest emotional impact comes at the point where the ramp rises to a view of the pediment with the lions (more than 18 meters in length), with the display cases in niches next to it and behind them one of the Caryatids, impressive, even if it is a copy.

There are many viewing areas, as Acropolis Ephor Alexandros Mantis showed the Minister, which will encourage visitors to view the exhibits from different angles. In the last hall, which will play a key role in the Museum as it will house the Parthenon sculptures, a huge opening through which the antiquities will be brought indicates meticulous planning down to the last detail.

Liapis heard from Pantermalis and archaeologists from the Ephorate how the Parthenon frieze would be displayed and a net would indicate the parts that Lord Elgin took and are now in the British Museum.

The transfer of the antiquities will be finished in three months, with cranes making three or four trips a day. In fact the bases for the specially modified cranes are visible from a distance.