The Greek president has escalated a campaign for the return of the Elgin Marbles, attacking their home in the British Museum as a “murky prison”.
Speaking in Athens, Prokopis Pavlopoulos challenged British officials to “come here and make the comparison” with the city’s Acropolis Museum, where he suggested the artefacts could alternatively be displayed.
He contrasted the “light” Athens building with the “murky, if I may say, prison” of the British Museum in central London.
Mr Pavlopoulos added the marbles, which are named after Lord Elgin, the 19th century British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, were being held as “trophies” in the UK.
The 2,500-year-old sculptures are the subject of a centuries-long battle between London and Athens.
Greece claims Lord Elgin removed the marbles from the Parthenon in Athens around 1805, while “acting with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman authorities”.
The country has repeatedly requested their return since gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832.
It stepped up the campaign in 2009 by opening a new museum at the foot of a hill, atop which sits the ancient Acropolis.
The new building holds the sculptures that Lord Elgin left behind, alongside plaster cast copies of the missing pieces, lit by the sun coming through a glass wall looking over the original site.
“This museum can host the marbles,” Mr Pavlopoulos said, adding: “We are fighting a holy battle for a monument which is unique.”
Those marbles displayed in the British Museum are in a gallery lit by a long skylight.
A museum spokesperson said the sculptures are shown “as the great achievement of ancient Athens and are seen by up to six million visitors from around the world every year, free of charge” – while the Acropolis Museum shows “approximately half of what survives” of the marbles.
They added: “The trustees remain convinced that the current locations of the Parthenon sculptures allow different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures, highlighting their significance for world culture and affirming the universal legacy of ancient Greece.”