Italy returns Parthenon marble fragment to Greece

A long-missing portion of the Parthenon returned to Athens this week, courtesy of a visiting Italian leader.

A long-missing portion of the Parthenon was returned to Athens this week, courtesy of a visiting Italian leader.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano arrived in the Greek capital on Tuesday for an official visit.

Part of his busy itinerary revolves around returning a fragment of the Parthenon frieze that had been in the collection of the Salinas Archaeological Museum in Palermo.

The fragment features the foot and part of the dress of Greek hunting goddess Artemis and is part of a larger scene depicting the gods of Olympis. The fragment was removed from the ancient Greek monument by Lord Elgin, the 19th century British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who later gave it to a British official in Sicily.

"As you know, Greece is seeking the return of the Parthenon Marbles [from the British Museum], so you are aware of the importance and the symbolism of this gesture," Greek President Karolos Papoulias said after talks with Napolitano on Tuesday.

"This gesture is especially appreciated."

Though the marble fragment will technically be on loan to Greece from the Palermo museum, officials on both sides said the deal is to be permanent.

Italian officials also revealed that a Vatican museum has agreed to return two pieces of the Parthenon sculptures in its own collection next month.

While in Greece, Napolitano also helped inaugurate several art shows, including an exhibition at Athens' new Acropolis Museum that explores looted Italian and Greek artifacts that have been recovered and returned.

Lord Elgin is perhaps best known for having a host of marble sculptures stripped from the Parthenon and shipped to England. He later sold them to the British Museum.

For decades, Greece has called for these sculptures to be returned, while the British Museum has argued that it legally acquired the marbles.