LONDON — The Elgin Marbles will remain in the British Museum in London despite attempts by Greece to have the famous Parthenon sculptures returned, the museum's director said today.
Robert Anderson said the British Museum's trustees have no legal right to dispose of any exhibits even if they want to.
The return of the 2,500-year-old marbles removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin two centuries ago has long been demanded by Greece, and the issue often sours relations between Athens and London.
Writing in The Times newspaper, Anderson said there had been speculation that the British Museum might agree to lend the sculptures for exhibition in 2004, when Athens is to host the Olympics.
"It is normal courtesy that such requests are addressed first to the Museum Director, but so far no such request has been received," Anderson said.
There were press reports that Greece was building a museum in Athens designed to hold the Elgin Marbles, Anderson said.
But Greece might make a more appropriate symbolic gesture for 2004 if it were to ensure it could properly display the many sculptures from the Parthenon that it currently had "lumbered in store-rooms," he added.
"Meanwhile the British Museum's sculptures are where they will remain, in the museum's own purpose-built gallery, where they are displayed free for all," Anderson added.
He said Greece had given up previous attempts to challenge the British Museum's legal ownership of the marbles, which Anderson described as "unassailable."
Instead, Athens was seeking possession of them by trying to pressure the British Museum into agreeing to a loan, something the museum had no power to grant.
Greece says Elgin illegally removed the stones, known locally as the Parthenon marbles, after bribing Ottoman officials.
But the British Museum refuses to give the 56 blocks of frieze and 19 statues back, saying Elgin had legitimate papers.