Mining Greece: The marbles of Parthenon

MINING GREECE – THE MARBLES OF PARTHENON – 001Everyone knows the most beautiful temple in the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon, this marvel of architecture and beauty, which as the years go by becomes more valuable.

Thousands of people worked for many years to build the incomparable in richness and beauty temples of the Acropolis and the masterly statues. Valuable timber form Thrace and Lebanon was constantly unloaded in Piraeus. Many loads with ivory came from Egypt. Thrace and Libya provided the gold needed for the statues. And the nearby Penteli offered its clear and precious marble.

The Parthenon was built on the foundations of the previous church built by Peisistratus and destroyed by the Persians. The material used in the construction was Pentelic marble, except the raised floor, where limestone was used. The erection of the temple took nine years. The official inauguration took place in the Panathenaic festival of 439 BC. However, the temple’s frieze and metope decoration by the sculptor Phidias continued and ended in 432 BC. Therefore, the entire construction of the temple was completed within fifteen years.

The main reason for which Penteli was known since ancient times was its marble. The Pentelic marble, quarried during the “Golden Age” of Pericles (Athens, 5th century BC), provided thousands of cubic meters of material with which most architectural and sculptural masterpieces of the classical period were built: the Acropolis of Athens up to statues and monuments of classical Hellenistic and Roman times.

Its main features were the unique white appearance, purity, clarity and transparency. In ancient times the Pentelic marble was an important export product of Athens. Thus, many great monuments found scattered in various parts of Greece made of Pentelic marble.

The life of the Penteli quarries remains untouched until today maintaining an unbroken continuity between then and now providing the modern artists with the same material from which the famous works of their ancestors emerged. The quarry region is at Dionysos of Attica, at Dionyssovouni site, and has the same chemical composition and texture as the renowned since antiquity Pentelic marble.

The Penteli quarries were the main source of marble not only for the construction of Parthenon and other buildings of the Acropolis. The Pentelic marble was also used for the construction of the Academy of Athens, the National Library, the restoration of “Stoa of Attalos” and the Panathenaic Stadium (Kalimarmaro), where the first Olympic Games of modern history were held in 1896. And in many other recent buildings both in Greece (e.g. Athens Concert Hall) and abroad (e.g. Grand Main Temple, Pavillion of Perfect Harmony, Japan, House of Worship, Bajai Religion India etc.)

The most impressive thing is that the key decision makers of the quarries of Dionysos-Penteli in cooperation with the Athens Restoration Service (YSMA) undertook the project of supplying the necessary marbles to restore (damages, completion of architectural parts etc.) the Acropolis monuments, including Parthenon. The project began in 2002 and is underway.

And here are the quarries again, although some people had deleted them form their development… agenda, and contribute to the preservation of our cultural heritage and the restoration of monuments such as the Parthenon, which is perhaps the most important architectural creation of mankind …

[SOURCE:  Petros Tzeferis]

From Penteli to Parthenon

The most common question of the visitors of Acropolis is how the marbles were carried up there. Most of us ignore that other stages of construction, such as the extraction from the Penteli quarry and transport were more difficult than the elevation and that the most difficult achievement was the perfect levelling and assembly of vertebrae, the capitals and of each stone separately used in the construction of the temple. The Parthenon may be an unsurpassed ideological, historical and artistic creation, but as an architectural and technological model, is a relatively recent discovery.

The architect Manolis Korres in his book “from Penteli to Parthenon” (Melissa Pub.) argues that now, with the existing technology but also the possibility of an equal number or more technicians, it would not be possible to build the Parthenon in eight-nine years that was built by the ancients. This view might seem bizarre but it is well documented.

One of the secrets of the construction was the metallurgy of the stone masonry tools and the highly skilled stonemasons. Based on the quality of the traces left on the marbles it appears that their tools were much better than today’s tools. It is evident that they had come to some remarkable metallurgical recipes at that time, following a very rigorous experimental research. These recipes were lost, like other special knowledge, along with the decline of the ancient world.

The roles of people involved in a major project in the ancient world were completely different than today. Furthermore, the technical means for the ancient architects and sculptors were not taken for granted, as the designing materials, the machines, the commercial construction and other materials are for today’s architects.  An ancient architect was often responsible for the design of mechanical means and the manual performance for the craftsmen. A good quarrier was concerned about many of the problems that the sculptor or architect faced and made calculations that required a high mental acuity. He had to observe, assess and handle a very hard material such as marble. He had to capture complex combinations of geological, geometrical, artistic and mechanical factors. A worthy craftsman had a theoretical background and if he combined it with a unique talent could evolve into an architect. Another equally essential competence was the effective organization skills in the production which underlie this multifaceted intellectual work.

So what are the simplistic divisions of the components of major projects in higher spiritual and lower “manual” and “managerial”? Why simply regarded as executive bodies even those who have the characteristics that make up a personality of even a young creator?

In short, the Acropolis of Pericles, Iktinos, Kallikrates and Phidias could not have been realized without the simple craftsman, the quarrier, the stonemason, the marble craftsman… The most important monument of Western civilization would not have been built if the quarrying and processing methods of Pentelic marble had not reached wonderful levels of achievement for that time.

[SOURCE: Petros Tzeferis]