Part of the Elgin Marbles has left Britain for the first time since they were taken from the Parthenon in 1803, on loan to a Russian museum, the British Museum said on Friday.
The museum has loaned one of the statues -- taken from Greece by British diplomat Lord Elgin and which Athens has repeatedly demanded be returned -- to Russia's State Hermitage Museum.
The sculpture of the Greek river god Ilissos, a reclining male figure, will be displayed in the St. Petersburg museum from this Saturday until January 18 to celebrate the museum's 250th anniversary.
"The duty of the trustees is to allow citizens in as many countries as possible to share in their common inheritance,» said the chairman of the trustees Richard Lambert.
"The trustees are delighted that this beautiful object will be enjoyed by the people of Russia."
For three decades Greece has demanded the return of the sculptures, which decorated the Acropolis of Athens for over 2,000 years before their removal.
While Elgin said he had permission to take the works from the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Greece at the time, Athens regards their removal as theft.
Greece's campaign has the support of lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, who is married to the actor George Clooney, and the government last month began polling passengers at Athens airport on whether the marbles should be returned.
But Greece has said it will await the outcome of possible talks between UNESCO and Britain on the dispute, after the UN's cultural and scientific body offered to act as a mediator.