Greece hopes marble foot will get UK to return sculptures

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — It’s only the size of a shoebox, carved with the broken-off foot of an ancient Greek goddess.

But Greece hopes the 2,500-year-old marble fragment, which arrived Monday on loan from an Italian museum, may help resolve one of the world’s thorniest cultural heritage disputes and lead to the reunification in Athens of all surviving Parthenon Sculptures — many of which are in the British Museum.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the Sicilian museum’s gesture “opens the way, I believe, for other museums to be able to move in a similar direction.”

“Most importantly, of course, the British Museum, which must now realize that it’s time for the Parthenon marbles … to finally return here, to their natural home,” he added, voicing gratitude to Italy for the loan.

The fragment was part of a 160-meter-long (520-foot) frieze that ran around the outer walls of the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis, dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom. Much was lost in a 17th-century bombardment, and about half the remaining works were removed in the early 19th century by a British diplomat, Lord Elgin. They ended up in the British Museum, which has repeatedly rebuffed Greek demands for their return.

Officially, Sicily’s A. Salinas Archaeological Museum is only lending the foot of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, to Greece for a maximum of eight years. But the ultimate aim, Italian and Greek officials say, is its “indefinite return” to Athens. In exchange, Greece will loan significant antiquities to Italy.

“The solution we found proves that, where there is will among museums and the cultural authorities of two countries, there can be a mutually acceptable solution,” Mitsotakis said during a ceremony at the Acropolis Museum, where Greece’s surviving sections of the frieze are inset among casts of those in London.

Artemis’ foot will snuggle in like a missing jigsaw piece between two original fragments and a copy of a larger section now in London.

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