The deputy director of the British Museum has proposed a “Parthenon partnership” with Greece that could see the Marbles returned to Athens after more than 200 years.
The sculptures – 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis – were taken by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was British ambassador to the empire Ottoman, and have since been the subject of a long-running dispute over where they should be displayed.
In an interview with the Sunday Times Culture magazine, Jonathan Williams said the British Museum wanted to “change the temperature of the debate” around marbles.
Williams said: “What we are asking for is an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece. I firmly believe that there is room for a truly dynamic and positive conversation in which new ways of working together can be found.
The British Museum has not said it will return the sculptures, with Williams saying they are “very much an integral part” of the collection.
However, he said they “want to change the temperature of the debate”, adding that all parties must “find a way around cultural exchanges of a level, intensity and dynamism that have not not been designed so far”.
He added: “There are many wonderful things that we would love to borrow and lend. This is what we do.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has repeatedly called for the Parthenon Marbles to be returned to Greece, even offering to lend some of his country’s other treasures to the British Museum in exchange.
Mitsotakis reaffirmed that Greece was open to negotiations, but said: “Small steps are not enough. We want big steps.
Acropolis museum director Nikolaos Stampolidis said there could be a “basis for constructive discussions” with the offer of “positive partnership with the Parthenon”.
He added: “In the difficult days we live in, giving them back would be an act of history. It would be like the British restoring democracy itself.