ATHENS, Greece: In a significant move for Greece, which has intensified its campaign to bring back sculptures from its most renowned ancient monument, a marble sculpture from the Parthenon temple will be permanently returned to Athens from a museum in Sicily.
The "Fagan fragment," part of the foot of the seated ancient Greek goddess Artemis, was part of the 5th century BC temple's eastern frieze.
It was included in the collection of Robert Fagan, an early 19th century British consul general to Sicily, who was also a painter and archaeologist, before it was purchased by the Royal University of Palermo in 1820 from his widow after his death.
How Fagan first acquired the artifact remains unknown.
The scuplture was loaned to Athens in January for four years by the Antonio Salinas Archaeological Museum in Palermo, with a renewal option for another four years.
"The so-called Fagan fragment can stay in Greece forever. Sicily paves the way for the return to Greece of the Parthenon marbles," said Greece's culture ministry Lina Mendoni, thanking the Sicilian government.
Athens has repeatedly called for the permanent return 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.
The British Museum in London, custodian of the marbles, which include about half of the 160-meter frieze that adorned the Parthenon, has refused to return them, stating "the sculptures are part of everyone's shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries."
After opening a new museum in 2009 at the foot of the Acropolis hill, Greece has stepped up its campaign for the return of its antiquities in recent years.
In March, the United Nations' cultural agency, UNESCO, urged Greece and the UK to settle the issue between themselves.