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Italy's 'abandoned' Riace Bronzes back on show in Calabria

By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Italy

image captionThe Riace Bronzes were found at the bottom of the sea near Riace on the southern coast of Italy in 1974

Two of Italy's greatest archaeological treasures are going back on show in their museum after a protracted renovation process that put them at the centre of a national controversy.

They are the 2,500 year-old Riace Bronzes - a pair of magnificent, towering statues of naked Greek warriors.

With their rippling muscles, thick beards and manes of curling hair they are extraordinarily life-like.

Their teeth are made of gleaming silver. Copper gives their lips and nipples a reddish tinge, and glass and ivory were used for their eyes.

'Model of masculinity'

The warriors are survivors of the lost world of Magna Graecia, the Hellenic civilisation that once flourished in what is now southern Italy.

"Their charm is that they are ancient, and whole, and perfect - extremely refined," said Simonetta Bonomi, a senior archaeology official in the region of Calabria.

"A beautiful model of masculinity. The creation of an ideal of the male body."

And from Saturday they will again be on display to the public in the National Museum of Magna Graecia, in the city of Reggio Calabria, on the toe of Italy.

image captionCopper is used to give the nipples of the statues a reddish colour

The inauguration ceremony marks a long-awaited homecoming.

When the museum shut for renovation in 2009, the statues had to be moved out.

But the work became mired in bureaucratic and other delays, and dragged on far longer than expected.

Back on their feet

So for four years the two Greeks found themselves stored in another building across town, lying on their backs in a rather undignified pose.

This led to a row.

A Unesco official said these national treasures had been disgracefully "abandoned".

And art lovers petitioned the Ministry of Culture, demanding that the statues be put properly on show as soon as possible.

But the archaeology official, Ms Bonomi, argues that the controversy surrounding the figures was overblown.

"They were prone, lying down, to allow the restorers to work on them," she said.

"They were behind glass, but still available for public viewing."

But there is relief and delight that the warriors are at last now back on their feet and being exhibited in state-of-the-art conditions.

The Culture Minister, Massimo Bray, who is widely credited with speeding up the process of returning the statues to the museum, said recently: "We are keeping a promise to give all the citizens of the world back one of its greatest treasures."

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