The “Fagan Fragment” is a 35 by 31 centimeters (12 by 14 in) marble fragment showing the foot of the seated ancient Greek goddess Artemis. It was part of the eastern frieze of the temple from the 5th century BC.
It was included in the collection of the 19th century British Consul General in Sicily, Robert Fagan, diplomat and archaeologist, before being purchased by the Royal University of Palermo in 1820 from his widow after his death.
It is unclear how Fagan first acquired it.
The fragment was loaned to Athens in January for four years by the Antonio Salinas Archaeological Museum in Palermo, with an option to renew for another four years.
“The so-called Fagan fragment (…) can stay in Greece forever,” Greece’s culture ministry said Friday, thanking the Sicilian government. “Sicily paves the way for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece,” he said.
Final approval from Italy’s culture ministry is expected soon, he added.
The move is significant for Athens, which has repeatedly called for the permanent return from the British Museum in London of the 2,500-year-old sculptures that Britain’s Lord Elgin removed from the Acropolis temple in the early 19th century, when Greece was under Ottoman Turkish rule. ruler.
The British Museum, custodian of the marbles which comprise around half of the 160-metre frieze that adorned the Parthenon, has ruled out returning them, saying “the sculptures are part of everyone’s common heritage and transcend cultural boundaries”.
Greece has stepped up its campaign for their return in recent years after opening a new museum in 2009 at the foot of the Acropolis hill which it hopes will one day house them.
In March, the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, urged Greece and the United Kingdom to hold talks and reach a settlement on the issue.
Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni on Friday welcomed UNESCO’s recommendation, saying the country is ready for honest dialogue with the UK and in good faith, “taking into account the historical, cultural , legal and moral issues”.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Toby Chopra, Bernard Orr)