According to UNESCO, the Acropolis and its monuments, most notably the Parthenon, are universal symbols of the classical spirit and civilisation and constitute the greatest architectural and artistic complex bequeathed by Greek Antiquity to the world.
On 14 October 2015 a function will be held at Parliament House in Canberra to launch a new parliamentary friendship group for the Parthenon in recognition of this important cultural legacy and to raise awareness of a campaign to reunite the sculptural and decorative elements of the Parthenon which are currently roughly divided between the British Museum in London and the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
The Parliamentary Friends of the Parthenon is a cross-party bi-cameral group. Its co-convenors are the Hon. Maria Vamvakinou (ALP), Russell Broadbent (Lib), Adam Bandt (Greens) and Senator Nick Xenophon (Ind.).
The idea for the creation of this parliamentary friendship group was conceived by Ms Elly Symons, the Vice-President of Australians for Return of the Parthenon Sculptures after recently attending a meeting in Greece of the World Hellenic Inter Parliamentary Association. Ms Symons explained:
The Parliamentary Friends of the Parthenon will enhance Greek and Australian bilateral relations at this critical time and also help raise awareness of the historical and cultural importance of the Parthenon as an extraordinary monument which belongs to the foundation of western civilization and is unique in world cultural heritage.
The Parthenon Sculptures (or Elgin Marbles as they were infamously called) are the Pedimental Statues, Metopes and significant parts of the Panathenaic Frieze that adorned the Parthenon when it was first constructed more than 2500 years ago. Commencing in 1801 workers engaged by Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, began stripping much of this sculptural work with scaffolding and hacksaws, as well as collecting fragments and shipped them back to Britain. Originally intended for his private collection and home decoration in Scotland, Elgin was forced under financial pressure to sell the sculptures to the British Government and in 1816 they were transferred to the British Museum where they remain to the present day.
Since the mid-1970s the Greek State has embarked upon a costly and extremely difficult restoration project on the Parthenon itself to ensure the continued structural integrity of the monument. In 2009 the new Acropolis Museum was completed to house all of the sculptures and artefacts from the Parthenon within proximity of the temple itself and in context in expectation of their return.
Despite repeated calls over 200 years for return of the Parthenon Sculptures, the British Museum and the British Government have steadfastly and resolutely refused. In March this year, they even declined an invitation from UNESCO to mediate an acceptable resolution between the UK and Greece.
According to David Hill, the Chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures:
This is a great cultural and historical wrong that can be righted. After 200 years the time has come for Philhellenes around the world to renew the campaign for return. Australia as a young democracy and with links to both Britain and Greece through migration and shared wartime experiences is well placed to take the lead and I commend the Parliamentary Friendship Group for this initiative.
Former Australian Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and John Howard have all in the past called for return of the sculptures, as has former U.S President Clinton. The Parliamentary Friends of the Parthenon will serve as a reminder that the claim for return of the Parthenon Sculptures is a truly global campaign to reunify one of antiquity’s most iconic and enduring sculptural works.