'They are coming home': Greek official claims Elgin Marbles will return to Athens by end of year

22 January 2023, 22:07 | Updated: 28 November 2023, 10:30

The Elgin Marbles are one of the main attractions at the British Museum
The Elgin Marbles are one of the main attractions at the British Museum. Picture: Getty

By Adam Solomons

The first of the Elgin Marbles will be returned to Athens by the end of the year, Greek officials said amid talks with British Museum boss George Osborne.

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A Greek government official said a "win-win" agreement to create a British Museum extension in Athens is underway, adding of the priceless Elgin Marbles: "They are coming home."

They told The Times: "We are working on a broad and lengthy cultural agreement that would include an interchange and rotation of historical artefacts between Greece and the British Museum."

The British Museum denied that there had been any official talks about an "annexe" in the Greek capital.

Read more: The term mummy is 'dehumanising' and should no longer be used, museum says in bid to protect ancient Egyptians

Read more: Elgin Marbles 'close to Greece return' as British Museum's George Osborne draws up landmark deal

Greece has been campaigning to have the marbles returned for decades
Greece has been campaigning to have the marbles returned for decades. Picture: Getty

The Parthenon Marbles are more than 2,500-year-old sculptures taken from Athens by Lord Elgin, who sold them to the British government in 1816.

The legality of his venture has been debated for more than 200 years.

Greece formally requested the Marbles' return in the early-1980s, with calls for the artefacts' repatriation becoming louder in subsequent decades.

An opinion poll this year found that some 40% of British people were in favour of returning the marbles to Greece, while 16% wanted to keep them in the UK.

British Museum chairman George Osborne is in talks with the Greek government
British Museum chairman George Osborne is in talks with the Greek government. Picture: PA

A British Museum spokesperson told the paper: "We operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle the museum’s collection as it tells the story of our common humanity.

"We are, however, looking at long-term partnerships, which would enable some of our greatest objects to be shared with audiences."

UK law bars institutions like the British Museum from handing over cultural artefacts such as the marbles.

Last month the government blocked an attempt at changing the legislation.

The British Museum said in December that it had "publicly called for a new Parthenon Partnership with Greece" and would "talk to anyone, including the Greek government about how to take that forward".

James O'Brien believes there's a case for sharing the Elgin Marbles if not keeping them

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