ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's culture minister said Friday he has not ruled out court action to try and force the return of the ancient Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum in London, but diplomacy seems like the most effective option.
Nikos Xydakis told The Associated Press the latter course has worked well so far, winning over British public opinion — although the London museum insists it legally acquired the marble works and has no plans to return them.
"Our priority is to seek the marbles, in any way," he said in an interview. "Court action is one of many courses. But the political and diplomatic path ... remains our basic advantage."
Lord Elgin, a Scottish nobleman, removed the marble works from the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis more than two centuries ago, when Greece was still an unwilling dominion of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Athens has long maintained that the 5th century B.C. sculptures, which stood on the temple for over 2,000 years, were illegally taken and should be reunited with other surviving sections in a landmark new museum under the Acropolis.
The prospect of a legal challenge gained momentum last year when a team of London lawyers, including Amal Clooney, wife of U.S. film star George Clooney, visited Athens and met officials from Greece's previous conservative government.
International advocacy groups backing Athens expressed dismay Thursday after Xydakis was quoted as rejecting the idea.
But the minister said that, while any legal opinion is useful, neither the previous government nor the current, radical left-led administration had ever committed to court action as their only option.
Xydakis also told the AP that conservation and restoration work is under way that will eventually allow public access to a resplendent — albeit plundered — ancient tomb excavated amid a media frenzy last year at Amphipolis, in northern Greece.
The excavation uncovered vaulted chambers decorated with big marble sphinxes, a pair of larger-than-life statues of young women and an ornate mosaic pavement. But there was nothing to back up initial speculation linking the monument with a relative or aide of ancient warrior-king Alexander the Great.