One of the fragments depicts the head of a boy, another the head of a horse, and the third the head of a bearded man.
The head of a bearded man pictured on display at the Acropolis Museum. Credit: Acropolis Museum
They were unveiled at a ceremony at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, an exhibition space built purposely to house the Parthenon Marbles.
Greek officials highlighted that the return of the fragments was a step to the further return of Parthenon sculptures, primarily referring to the much bigger collection held in the British Museum that Greece has been trying to recover for decades.
The two countries have been at odds over sculptures removed from the fifth-century BC temple by Lord Elgin, Britain’s then-ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who then sold them to the British government.
The head of a horse is one of the fragments returned to Greece by the Vatican. Credit: Acropolis Museum
Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni, described the decision as heroic adding that “Initiatives like these show the road that we could follow…. in order for the unity of the Parthenon to be restored.”
In an initial bid to keep out of controversy, the Vatican has been careful to term the return a “donation” to the Orthodox archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Ieronymos II, and not a state-to-state- transfer.
The offer was immediately accepted by Ieronymos II who said the fragments would go to the Acropolis Museum. At the ceremony in Athens, he described Pope Francis’s gesture as one “of historical significance”. He also expressed a wish “that others will imitate it.”
The British Museum is prevented by law from permanently returning the artworks to Greece but reports over the last year have suggested that progress has been made in finding a solution.
The head of a boy is displayed alongside a previous exhibit depicting boys carrying loads. Credit: Acropolis Museum
Growing support in public opinion in Britain has also been hailed as an optimistic sign in Greece.
Addressing the repatriation ceremony as head of the Vatican’s delegation, Bishop Brian Farrell said the gesture “has particular significance in affirming ever more strongly the friendship and spiritual closeness between our Churches.”
A fragment of the Parthenon temple was returned to Athens from a museum in Sicily, in 2022.