The Parthenon Marbles: A Piece of History Still Orphaned

Last May 18th, on the occasion of International Museum Day, a list of the top fifty museums of the world, as published by the Sunday Times, came to my attention. It was both with great joy and sadness that I saw the Acropolis Museum of Athens in third spot, right behind the Smithsonian in Washington and the British Museum in London.

For, the Acropolis Museum, founded on the passion and spirit of Melina Mercouri, the renowned Greek actress and Minister of Culture, patiently awaits the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their rightful resting place. It was brilliantly designed in minimalist architectural style in order to reflect the facade of the Parthenon that is visible through its glass structure and bears silent witness to Greece's Golden Age.

Sadly, the front portion of the Parthenon's frieze still lies orphaned, on display in the British Museum some 1500 miles from home, with Greece, a country paralyzed by the never-ending debt crisis, incapable of pursuing its claim to its heritage.

The Acropolis is not some miracle but, rather, the masterpiece of a civilization that was well versed in the arts, philosophy, oratory, democracy, drama and sculpture as well as architecture back in the 5th century BC. The Parthenon was but the chef d'oeuvre of a people who excelled in building theatres, columns and temples while Europe was still an unexplored land and reigns as a symbol of prosperity and perfection envied by the world at large.

In difficult economic times as these, I try to remember the long history of our nation and to draw courage from it. From the Olympic Games, for example, that were established in order to bring peace during wartime and are celebrated today by the ceremonial lighting of the torch in the heart of Elis every two years.

Others, however, such as the Falmerayers of the Western world, are unsympathetic to the modern Greek nation, pretending that it is not of the same population as those who created this historical magnum opus, refusing to accept that Byzantium was the continuation of Ancient Greece and rebuffing Greece's demands for the return of its historical treasures.

In a telling documentary series entitled "Monogram" on National Greek Television (ERT) some years ago, it was insulting to hear the storied engraver, Tassos, confess that, in the 1930s, the prevailing German impressionist school forbade students to study the works of El Greco and of Byzantine iconography, claiming that they were deforming human nature.

Regardless, those who have written off the Greece of today as a land of lazy tax cheats without any hope for the future should think again. On the contrary, it is a vibrant nation that has shown stubborn resilience in the face of extraordinary odds, promoting political, social and human values and ready to be reborn, as the phoenix from its ashes.

Eyeing the brightly lit Parthenon from afar, ageless and beautiful as it is despite the amputation suffered at the hands of Elgin and his conspirators, it is obvious that the time has come for the international community and organizations such as UNESCO o heed Greece's call and assume a leadership role in promoting the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their birthplace.

The Greeks are not seeking the repatriation of a multitude of ancient pieces on display in museums around the world as the country is proud to have these highly prized specimens on display in the international arena. However, Athens must have the missing sculptures of the Parthenon in order to complete the harmonious whole of a temple that is the apotheosis of architectural perfection.

The Acropolis Museum, cleverly designed with the return of its orphans in mind, stands ready to claim top spot in the Times' next survey by staging the most talked about monument on the planet in its consummate form.