where are the fragments of the work?

The Vatican announced Friday, December 16 the return of three fragments of the Parthenon to the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens, as a sign of ecumenical dialogue. These fragments were hitherto “preserved with care for centuries in the pontifical collections and the Vatican Museums”, according to the press release.

Object of diplomatic rivalry for two centuries, the frieze of the Parthenon, also called “frieze of the Panathenaic” and 160 meters long, was built in the 5th century BC to adorn the main monument of the Acropolis, in Athens , in Greece.

After being rediscovered at the end of the 18th century, most of the 114 marble “slabs” that made it up were sent to London at the beginning of the 19th century by Lord Elgin, British ambassador in Constantinople, then sold to the British Museum where they are exhibited. since 1817.

Request for Greek restitution

While London claims the sculptures were “legally acquired”Greece maintains that they were the subject of a “looting”, the country being then under the tutelage of the Ottoman Empire. Since its independence in 1821, Greece has demanded the restitution of these fragments, denouncing “elginism”. A reference to the name of Lord Elgin to speak of a form of vandalism which consists in “to tear from architectural monuments the works of art that decorate them to transform them into collectibles »according to the historian specializing in heritage, Dominique Poulot, in an online publication by Sorbonne University.

Since the mid-1970s and the end of the Greek dictatorial regime, the request for restitution of the fragments also appears as a symbol of “democratic repair” and D’“European integration” from the country. The influential British daily The Timeswho had always supported the British Museum, even spoke in January in favor of a return of the works to Athens.

Fragments in Paris, Denmark, Austria and Germany

Apart from the United Kingdom and the Vatican, fragments of this frieze are also in the Louvre Museum, in Paris. These are two pieces, excavated in 1788 and 1798 by Louis-François-Sébastien Fauvel, who worked for the French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. “After 1789, the large-scale spoliations of the French Revolution were, at the time, legitimized by the interest of offering universal masterpieces to the citizens of a new democratic State, then placing them at the center of an empire”recounts Dominique Poulot.

Fragments of the frieze are also in the National Museum of Denmark, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria, or the German museums of Würzburg and the Glyptothek in Munich.

Some pieces have already been returned by European countries, such as a foot of Artemis, so far on display at the Antonino-Salinas Museum in Palermo, Sicily. He was loaned in January 2022 by Italy to Athens for at least eight years. In 2008, the Vatican had already returned a fragment of the north frieze of the Parthenon to Greece.


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