Nice museum, but where are the exhibits?

Greece wants Britain to finally hand over the Elgin marbles

Nice museum, but where are the exhibits?If you build it, maybe they really will come.

The protagonist in W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe constructed a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield to attract the ghosts of his dead heroes to play there. Now Greece, too, has built a home for the icons of its past in the hopes that they will return.

On June 21, the new Acropolis Museum will open in Athens. The visually stunning museum sits at the base of the Acropolis and will house artifacts pertaining to the buildings that represent the pinnacle of classical Greek civilization. The museum’s main gallery is reserved for the sculptures that once adorned the Acropolis’s Parthenon temple.

There’s only one problem. About half of those sculptures are in London, and Britain refuses to return them. They’ve been housed at the British Museum for some two centuries, ever since Lord Elgin removed them from the Parthenon under dubious circumstances, when Greece was ruled by the Ottomans, and sold them to the museum.

Greece has been campaigning to get the marbles back for decades. The British have given a variety of reasons to justify keeping the sculptures, including that Greece has never had a proper place to protect and display the treasures. “The new state-of-the-art museum refutes that defence,” Antonis Samaras, Greece’s minister of culture, told Maclean’s. “It just demolishes that charge.”

For Samaras, the Parthenon marbles are more than artifacts. They are an integral part of the Acropolis itself and need to be appreciated “in the unique light and the unique setting” for which they were created. “They represent the height of our achievement as a people, the most cherished symbols of our cultural heritage, which in turn radiated that heritage for the whole Western world,” the minister of culture says. “The Parthenon sculptures narrate a story. They need to be seen together. And this cannot happen as long as half of them are held hostage back in the British Museum.”