Uploaded by George Vardas

The Return of the Parthenon Sculptures: this is only the beginning

The return of the Palermo fragment: “this is the beginning”
Dr Lina Mendoni, the Greek Minister of Culture
On 10 January 2022 a formal ceremony was held at the Acropolis Museum in Athens to
unveil a fragment of the Parthenon frieze from the Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological
Museum in Sicily.
During this symbolic process, the Greek Minister for Culture, Dr Lina Mendoni, delivered a
passionate address about the significance of the reunification of the Palermo piece in the
peerless collection of the Acropolis Museum.
The Palermo fragment in situ (finally)
The Parthenon exudes an appeal that transcends both time and place.
Dr Mendoni reminded the audience that the famous Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard
Jeanneret (known as Le Corbusier) first visited Athens in 1911 and marvelled at the elegant
forms of the Classical Periclean monuments on the Athenian Acropolis which represented
the “pure creation of the mind”. For Le Corbusier, the Parthenon was a conception in a
state of supreme grace, reflecting a profound harmony of form and light, that gave birth to
Greek classical culture and the Athenian Republic.
Sketch from the Parthenon by Le Corbusier (1911)
According to Dr Mendoni, it is self-evident that Plato's dialogues, Aristotelian logic,
mathematical science, Pericles' political thought, together with all the later values of
humanism and, ultimately, of the Western world find their artistic expression in the
Parthenon. And humanity is entitled to see the Parthenon Marbles - this unique
composition and masterpiece of art from the greatest monument to European culture - in
its entirety, reunited at the Acropolis Museum, and no longer cruelly divided between
Athens and London.
Dr Mendoni reminded the audience that the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures is not
only supported by world public opinion. The gaping and mutilated monument itself
demands the return of its architectural sculptural members, in order to regain its unified
and indivisible physical, aesthetic and conceptual entity. As the great Philhellene
Lord Byron poignantly wrote to his publisher in 1821:
“The ruins are as poetical in Piccadilly as they were in the Parthenon – but the Parthenon
and its rock are less so without them. Such is the Poetry of Art.”
The unveiling of the Palermo fragment
The Greek Culture Minister also acknowledged the special place that Sicily occupies in the
Greek cultural and historical milieu as part of a common Mediterranean identity. After all,
as the historian Fernand Braudel has written, there is no single Mediterranean Sea but many
successive seas; not one civilisation, but many civilisations in a vast, complex expanse. This
sea was and remains an amalgam of cultures and ways of life. It was and remains a world
that is constantly evolving and paving the way.
And this is exactly what the Regional Government of Sicily and especially Alberto Samona,
the Councillor for Cultural Heritage and Sicilian Identity, and Dr Caterina Greco, the Director
of the Archaeological Museum at Palermo, have achieved through the agreement in
principle to allow the exhibition (by way of a special deposit) of the Fagan fragment for an
extended period (four years with one renewable term of four years) in exchange for two
rare Ancient Greek artefacts from the collections of the Acropolis Museum to be exhibited
in Palermo on a reciprocal, rotating basis.
Sicily has also committed to seeking the assistance of the Ministry of Culture of the Italian
Republic to secure the final (or sine die) repatriation of the Palermo fragment to Athens.
The Greek Culture Minister concluded by alluding to the majesty of the Attic light by
reference to the opening lines of Yiannis Ritsos’ immortal poem, Romiosini:
Αὐτὰ τὰ δέντρα δὲ βολεύονται μὲ λιγότερο οὐρανό,
αὐτὲς οἱ πέτρες δὲ βολεύονται κάτου ἀπ᾿ τὰ ξένα βήματα,
αὐτὰ τὰ πρόσωπα δὲ βολεύονται παρὰ μόνο στὸν ἥλιο,
αὐτὲς οἱ καρδιὲς δὲ βολεύονται παρὰ μόνο στὸ δίκιο.
These trees don’t take comfort in less sky
these rocks don’t take comfort under foreigners’ footsteps
these faces don’t take comfort but only in the sun
these hearts don’t take comfort except in justice
In the case of the Parthenon Sculptures, these stones do not take comfort in less sky or, as
the French sculptor Auguste Rodin so eloquently put it, they are deserving of the “sweet
light sung by Homer”.
Dr Lina Mendoni with Elly Symons
At the conclusion of the official ceremony Dr Mendoni was greeted by Elly Symons of the
Acropolis Research Group and the Australian Parthenon Committee who congratulated her
on her address and on the success of the initiative and the Minister’s personal involvement
in procuring the return of the Fagan fragment, declaring that Australians stand with Greece
in the cause of reunification of all of the Parthenon Sculptures.
Dr Mendoni, who had earlier remarked that a hidden Greece exists in the hearts of all
people in the West, thanked Ms Symons and added: “This is the beginning … there is more
work to be done”.
Lord Elgin and the British Consul Robert Fagan may have accidentally crossed paths in Sicily
more than 200 years ago but the return of the Fagan fragment, the exquisite, draped foot of
the goddess Artemis from the Parthenon frieze, will hopefully mark a significant turning
point in the quest for the return of the Elgin Marbles.
The final destiny of the Parthenon Sculptures awaits.
George Vardas
Co-Vice Chair, Australian Parthenon Association; Co-Founder, Acropolis Research Group