A Roman-era sarcophagus of Hercules is currently on display in Geneva, Switzerland, but will return to its home in the Mediterranean province of Antalya
following a Swiss court ruling in 2015.
Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Nabi Avcı, at an opening ceremony in Geneva, said the return of the Hercules sarcophagus is a new phase in Turkey’s long-time international struggle.
Avcı said cultural possessions of countries being returned to their country of origin has been encouraged recently. “Let’s put legal struggles, claims and counterclaims on one side. We should remember that seizing a cultural heritage of a country is basically equivalent to destroying the unity of world civilization,” he added.
He said the issue of cultural heritage smuggling has ways that can be solved in short, mid and long-term methods.
“Everybody and institutions related to this issue should be more sensitive. Turkey strongly supports the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the works that have been carried out within the scope of this convention. We are determined to consider all possible collaborations. Also, we will continue working for the return of all cultural heritages that have been taken out of the country illegally,” he added.
Avcı stressed that it is important to protect cultural heritages in conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq, adding that it was the ministry’s priority to prevent the smuggling of movable objects from archaeological settlements.
In his speech, he thanked customs and security authorities as well as lawyers, ministry officials and most importantly Professor Marc-Andre Renold, Turkey’s lawyer in the case of retrieving the Heracles sarcophagus.
Meanwhile, UNESCO Director Irina Bokova said Turkey is one of the biggest defenders of the UNESCO 1970 Convention.
She said the collaboration between Turkey and Switzerland during the return process of the sarcophagus could become a model for other countries in the field of international cultural diplomacy.
Among the other attendees of the ceremony were Swiss politician Pierre Maudet; University of Geneva rector Yves Flückiger; director of the art-law center of the university, Marc-Andre Renold; Geneva Museum of Art and History director Jean-Yves Marin, Turkish Ambassador to Bern İlhan Saygılı, Ambassador Naci Koru and Ambassador Kemal Madenoğlu.
Sarcophagus’ return process
The Roman-era sarcophagus of Hercules was seized in December 2010 by the Swiss customs administration following an inventory check.
It was sculpted toward the end of the second century, when the area was under Roman rule, and part of the inventory of Phoenix Ancient Art which specializes in antiquities.
In March 2011, the Swiss federal culture office said the sarcophagus came from Turkey, from the ancient city of Dokimion - present day Antalya
province. And in 2015, a Swiss public prosecutor ordered the return of the sarcophagus to Turkey. The two countries agreed on the display of the sarcophagus for three months at Geneva University.
Considered a major archaeological find, the sarcophagus depicts the 12 labors of Hercules.