Ancient Hercules sarcophagus returns home to Turkey with splendid welcome

Published 24.09.2017 16:17
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A second century sarcophagus depicting the labors of Hercules and discovered in southern Turkey is unveiled in a ceremony in the city of Antalya after Turkey secured its return from Switzerland where it was found after its disappearance

The sarcophagus of Hercules brought from Zurich to Istanbul earlier this month was put on display in the museum of Antalya, a southern city where the second century artifact originated.

Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmuş attended an unveiling ceremony yesterday where the sarcophagus was covered in red velvet and circled with bougainvillea flowers. The sarcophagus is believed to have been stolen from the ancient city of Perge, 18 kilometers (11 miles) east of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast, sometime in the 1960s. After undergoing restoration in the U.K. several years ago, it was seized by Swiss customs authorities in 2010 for being in violation of Swiss trafficking laws. A Geneva prosecutor initiated an investigation into the matter in 2011, contacting Turkish authorities. Once both sides realized that the sarcophagus originated in Perge, the repatriation process began. On May 2, 2015, the Geneva Prosecutor's Office decided to return the ancient artifact to its home, which was approved by a court last year.

The sarcophagus measures 2.35 meters to 1.12 meters (7.7 feet to 3.7 feet) and is categorized as a small Asian-style sarcophagus, or "Torre Nova." The fabled Twelve Labors of Hercules, from the killing of a mythological lion to cleaning the stables of a king, are depicted on the exterior of the sarcophagus.

It was displayed at the University of Geneva's Museum of Art and History for three months before Turkish officials from Antalya Museum traveled there to oversee the move. The piece was placed next to the "Weary Heracles" statue, which itself was retrieved from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The top half of the statue was missing for decades before being located in the Boston museum, which purchased it in 1982. The bottom part was discovered in Perge in 1980 and was showcased in the Antalya Museum.

Speaking at the ceremony, Kurtulmuş said the sarcophagus was "merely one artifact among thousands smuggled from Turkey." "Few among the artifacts, relics originating from Turkey and found and exhibited in the West, are legally there. Most of them are smuggled. It is the necessity of humanity to send back those artifacts to their home," Kurtulmuş said, though he acknowledged the difficulty of retrieving them. He said that officials of his ministry worked "like detectives" to find smuggled artifacts and were still working on the retrieval of about 57 artifacts in 15 countries, including those on display in the prestigious Louvre Museum in France. Since 2003, Turkey has been pursuing a legal process for the retrieval of several artifacts. Over 4,000 smuggled historical artifacts were repatriated to Turkey from 2004 to 2016, according to statistics.

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