Italian handover of Elgin Marbles fragment puts pressure on UK to follow suit

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In return for receiving the fragment on long-term loan, Greece will lend the Sicilian museum two artefacts: a marble statue of Athena from the fifth century BC and an amphora from the eighth century BC.

The museum in Sicily wants to return the fragment to the Acropolis Museum permanently, but needs the permission of the Italian culture ministry to do so.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, expressed his “great appreciation” on Wednesday for the decision made by the Sicilian regional government to return the fragment to Athens.

The Fagan fragment was “the only part of the Parthenon Marbles held by Italy,” he said.

Lina Mendoni, Greece’s culture minister, expressed her “deepest gratitude” for Sicily’s initiative, saying that the fragment would be returned to its “natural context”.

“With this gesture, the regional government of Sicily is showing the way for the definitive return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, the city that created them,” she said.

A rocky relationship

The debate over the ownership of the marbles has dogged Anglo-Greek relations for decades.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, has reiterated the arguments of his predecessors and says the friezes held by the British Museum should be returned to Athens.

He told The Telegraph last November: “Our position is very clear: the marbles were stolen in the 19th century, they belong in the Acropolis Museum and we need to discuss this issue in earnest.”

Boris Johnson told Mr Mitsotakis that he understood the “strength of feeling” of the Greek people, but insisted that he would have to take up his cause with the trustees of the British Museum.

The sculpted friezes were taken from the Parthenon, the ancient Greek temple on top of the Acropolis in Athens, by the Seventh Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time, between 1801 and 1812.

The British Museum insists they were obtained legally and successive British prime ministers have maintained that their plight is a matter for the museum, not the government.

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