Elgin Marbles could return to Athens after more than 200 years

The deputy director of the British Museum called for a “Parthenon partnership” with Greece which could see the contentious Elgin Marbles return 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 the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and have since been the subject of a long-running dispute over where they should be displayed.

Deputy director Jonathan Williams said the British Museum wants to “change the temperature of the debate” around the marble works of art.

Mr Williams said: “What we are calling for is an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece.

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    “I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.”

    The British Museum has not said it will hand the sculptures back, with Mr Williams arguing they are an “absolutely integral part” of the collection.

    However, he said they “want to change the temperature of the debate”, adding that all sides need to “find a way forward around cultural exchange of a level, intensity and dynamism which has not been conceived hitherto”.

    He added: “There are many wonderful things we’d be delighted to borrow and lend. It is what we do.”

    A section of the Parthenon Marbles in London's British Museum

    Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has restated that Greece is open to negotiations but said “baby steps are not enough. We want big steps”.

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