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Special Report: Double Standards Volume 55 Number 3, May/June 2002
by Mark Rose

Greece's minister of culture questions inconsistent attitudes toward his country's patrimony

In early February, Greece's Minister of Culture, Evangelos Venizelos, was en route to the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. While in New York, he spoke to ARCHAEOLOGY about the restitution of the Parthenon sculptures and the controversial 2004 Olympic venue at Marathon.

The most important item on Greece's cultural agenda is the return of the sculptures removed from the Parthenon between 1803 and 1812 by Lord Elgin, Britain's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire ("The Parthenon Marbles Custody Case," May/June 1999). Since 1829, after gaining independence from the Ottomans, Greece has repeatedly asked for the sculptures' return. Carved between 447 and 432 B.C., the marble frieze panels and statues are, in the words of Robert Anderson, "one of the greatest treasures of the British Museum." Anderson should know--he is the museum's director.

Protests dogged the construction of the rowing and canoeing venues for the 2004 Olympic Games last year. At stake, said archaeologists, was the integrity of the plain of Marathon northwest of Athens, where the Greeks defeated an invading Persian army in 490 B.C. Nongovernmental heritage organizations alarmed by the project included the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the AIA ("Olympic Battle," July/August 2001). "I understand very well the international sensitivity and the international awareness about the memory of Marathon as a place, as an idea, as a historical event," says Venizelos, but he clearly disagrees with the protesters.

The minister shares his thoughts about Greek efforts to re-establish Afghanistan's Kabul Museum and his country's battle against the illicit antiquities trade in our exclusive online feature, "Speaking with Greece's Minister of Culture."

Mark Rose is executive editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America