ANKARA: Germany has returned a 3,500-year-old sphinx to Turkey after a war of words and the treasured sculpture is set to be reinstated at its original location, media reports said Thursday.
The sphinx will be erected at the entrance of a museum at Hattusha, the ancient Hittite capital, some 240 kilometers northeast of the capital Ankara, archaeologist Tahir Aksekili told Anatolia news agency.
Culture and Tourism Minister Ertugrul Gunay, who led Turkey’s efforts to cajole Germany into returning the statue, hailed its arrival as "historic."
"A work of art belonging to our land for more than three millennia has returned home after 95 years," Anatolia quoted him as saying.
The sculpture — a lion’s body with a human head — will be taken to Hattusha after conservation and rehabilitation work at Istanbul’s Archaeology Museum, where it is currently housed, he said.
Germany agreed to return the statue in May after Gunay warned he would ban Germans from several ongoing archaeological digs around Turkey if the sphinx, part of the collection of Berlin’s Pergamon museum, were not given back.
The German culture ministry said the sphinx would be returned as "a voluntary gesture" and described its decision as an "isolated case" — an apparent attempt to fend off further requests for the return of antiquities taken from foreign lands.
German archaeologists uncovered the sculpture in 1915 and took it, along with another sphinx, to Germany for restoration.
The second sphinx was long ago returned to Turkey.
Germany is also embroiled in a row with Egypt, which has demanded the return of the 3,400-year-old bust of fabled beauty Nefertiti which currently has pride of place in the Neues (New) Museum in Berlin.
Cairo began to demand the restitution of the Pharaonic-era statue back in the 1930s, but successive German governments have insisted the piece was bought legally and that there are documents to prove it.