Athens museum leaves space for Elgin Marbles

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A £40m museum in Athens will leave space to eventually show the Elgin Marbles as they were originally displayed in Greece, it was announced in London yesterday by Professor Demetrios Pandermalis, the president of the project.

In a gesture likely to raise the stakes in the long-running argument over the friezes held in the British Museum in London, Greek officials said the centrepiece of the project would be a hall with the same dimensions as the original in the Parthenon building, the original home of the works.

Visitors would be able to view them not like paintings on a wall, as in the British Museum, but high around the outside of the hall as they were displayed in the 5th century BC.

Fourteen architectural practices are in competition for the contract to design the building at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens.The Greeks hope the museum will be open in time for the 2004 Olympics in the city.

Prof Pandermalis, an archaeologist, said he knew that the British Government had rejected the return of the marbles, which have been in the UK since the beginning of the 19th century. But he said: "For four years I was a member of parliament in Greece and I know the main characteristics of politics is change. Never is a no a no and never is a yes a yes."

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