Queen asked to return ‘stolen’ 2,000-year-old ruins dubbed ‘Libya’s Elgin Marbles’

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People stroll along the Long Walk, leading to Windsor Castle in Windsor Great Park (AFP via Getty Images)
People stroll along the Long Walk, leading to Windsor Castle in Windsor Great Park (AFP via Getty Images)

The Crown Estate is reportedly facing the threat of a legal challenge from Libya as it seeks the return of 2,000-year-old columns.

The North African country claims the columns, based in Windsor Great Park, were stolen by the British in the 19th century and has urged for them to be returned to the ancient site of Leptis Magna near Tripoli.

“We say that these were stolen and they should be returned as a matter of moral obligation”, Mohamed Shaban, the lawyer acting for Libya, told the Telegraph.

“British values are about doing the right thing, and I think the right thing would be to return these artefacts.

“We have shown great respect so far, and we have perhaps not had the respect that we deserve. For us, now, nothing is off the table.”

"Much like the Elgin Marbles, they were taken in the 19th century and moved to Britain - almost at the same time in fact. We say that they were stolen and should be returned," he said.

Last year the Greek prime minister called for the Elgin Marbles – also known as the Parthenon Marbles - to be returned to the country.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the sculptures were “stolen” from Athens and “belong in the Acropolis Museum”.

Mr Mitsotakis said: “Our position is very clear. The marbles were stolen in the 19th century, they belong in the Acropolis Museum and we need to discuss this issue in earnest.

“I am sure that if there was a willingness on the part of the Government to move we could find an arrangement with the British Museum in terms of us sending abroad cultural treasures on loan, which have never left the country.”

The marbles were removed from the Acropolis more than 200 years ago and have long been the subject of dispute.

They were once in the ancient Greek Parthenon temple and other buildings on the Acropolis but around half were taken to Britain in the early 19th century by staff working for the Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce.

Boris Johnson has previously ruled out returning the marbles to Greece, telling Greek newspaper Ta Nea: “I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people – and indeed Prime Minister Mitsotakis – on the issue.

“But the UK Government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s Trustees since their acquisition.”

A spokesperson for the Crown Estate said: “The Leptis Magna columns were installed at Virginia Water in the early 1800s. They remain on public display and are an important and valued feature of the Virginia Water landscape. They continue to be enjoyed by the millions of visitors to Windsor Great Park each year.”

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