China’s President Pledges His Support to Greece in Its Effort to Recover the Parthenon Marbles From the British Museum

Greece has campaigned for three decades for the British Museum to repatriate the marbles.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan visit the Acropolis Museum accompanied by Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and his wife Vlassia Pavlopoulou-Peltsemi, November 12, 2019. Photo: Ding Lin/Xinhua via Getty via Getty Images.

For decades, the Greek government has tried to reclaim the marble friezes that once adorned the Parthenon from the British Museum. Now, the country has a new ally on their side. 

On a trip to the Acropolis Museum in Athens yesterday, the President of China, Xi Jinping, told Greek officials that it has China’s support in its struggle to recover the 2,500-year-old sculptures, which were removed and transported to Britain in the early 19th century by the diplomat Lord Elgin.

“I assure you of our support, because we also have many Chinese cultural works outside our country that we are trying to recover,” Xi said at the end of his three-day venture to the Greek capital. 

Xi was touring the Acropolis museum with his wife when Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos appealed to him for support, according to Al Jazeera. “Imagine this place with the marbles,” said the Greek president, “and [then] imagine how the marbles are at this moment in the British Museum, which is holding them illegally and against every sense of culture.”

“I totally agree with you,” replied Xi. “Not only will you have my support, we should work together.”

Visitors pose in front of the British Museum’s Elgin Marbles, which originate from the Parthenon in Athens. Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images.

Lord Elgin claimed to have permission to take the marbles, which illustrate ancient Greek myths and depict the people of Athens performing a religious procession, from Ottoman Empire, which then governed Greece. About half of the 525-foot-long frieze, which once spanned the top of the Parthenon, is currently housed at the British Museum. On view at the Acropolis Museum is 164 feet of it, while the remaining blocks are scattered throughout other European institutions.

The Greek government has campaigned for more than 30 years for the museum to repatriate the objects, but Britain has consistently denied the request. In 2014, Greece solicited the help of UNESCO to act as a mediating body in the dispute, but the British Museum refused to participate.

“The museum’s collections represent the whole world,” a representative from the British Museum told Artnet News. “The Parthenon sculptures are a vital element in this interconnected world collection. The museum is committed to sharing this collection as widely as possible and working in collaboration with communities, individuals, and institutions across the world.”

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