Greece returns 13th century murals to Italy

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece has returned to Italy two murals smuggled from an Italian church more than 20 years ago, the Culture Ministry said Tuesday.

The frescoes dating to the 13th century were seized from the church in the southern region of Campania, in 1982. Greek police found them in 2006 on a small island in the southern Aegean during an anti-smuggling mission.

“This is one step further in our cooperation with the Italians,” Culture Minister Antonis Samaras said in a statement. “We are together in this ‘war’ against the disease which bedraggles our countries.”

Greece and Italy, often characterized “as open-air museums,” have stepped up in recent years their campaign to recover ancient artifacts. Last year, Italy returned to Greece two fragments of the Parthenon marbles after years of negotiations.

Greece has long called for Britain to give back scores of the priceless ancient sculptures, also known as Elgin marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon in 1801 by Lord Elgin and are housed in the British Museum.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou