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Contributor: Tom Heldal, Norway
Subject:  Iddefjord Granite

Tom Heldal

Iddefjord granite (Norway)

One of the most important quarrying districts in Norway is linked to a Late Precambrian granitic complex, often referred to as the Iddefjord Granite. Although minor quarrying took place already in the 12th Century, it was the industrial revolution that triggered large-scaled granite quarrying in Norway. From the 1850s onwards, the production grew, culminating just after the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, when 5000 workers worked granite in hundreds of quarries.

The Iddefjord Granite is grey to pinkish, but the main advantages are its unique quarrying properties (block size and workability) as well as extreme durability. Thus, the district delivered stone for many purposes in Norway, but also abroad, such as the Ritz Hotel in London, streets of Buenos Aires and docks of Cape Town. The granite is a high-quality material for sculptures, like those you see at the Vigeland sculpture park in Oslo.

At present, the stone industry in the district is small but sustainable. You can find footprints of the past quarrying in the terrain, and several trails will lead you through ancient quarry landscapes. A rare example of documentation of traditional skills is found in a film from 1966 (text and audio are in Norwegian, but the video is quite self-explanatory).


Contributor: Tom Heldal
Subject: Cezanne's quarries, Aix en Provence

Tom Heldal

Cezanne and his beloved quarries (France)

Paul Cezanne was one of the most important post-impressionist painters laying the foundation for 20th century art, and was based in Aix-en-Provence. One of his favourite places was the Bibémus quarries on a hill above the city. Here, sandstone for the construction of the monumental architecture of the city were exploited from the Roman period onward until the 18th Century, leaving a pronounced geological fingerprint on the architectural heritage.


The old quarries make a fascinating landscape of human made cliffs, displaying marks from thousands of quarrymen carving the mountain with picks. Today, Bibémus Quarries is an open-door museum where you can literally walk in the artist’s footsteps and brushstrokes. The museum claims that this is the birthplace of cubism. At least, it is an example of how a site for extracting raw materials for monumental architecture became a monument itself. And, about the intimate connection between a quarry landscape and the city and people it served through millennia.


Contributor: Tom Heldal
Subject: Lapiz Specularis, Italy

Tom Heldal

Lapiz Specularis: the window stone (Spain)

We know that natural stone can be used to build walls, pathways, roads, panels, ornaments, sculptures and even utensils. Stone is solid, durable and beautiful material, ready-to-use from Nature.  But one particular historical use of stone stands out. Who would think of using stone slabs for windows? Well, the Romans did! 

5.5 million years ago, the access between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean was closed due to tectonic forces, and a large part of the Mediterranean dried out, much like like the Dead Sea is drying out today.  As a result, large deposits of gypsum formed as the sea evaporated,  creating the land mass we know today as Spain.


In some areas, gypsum appeared in the sedimentary layers as huge, transparent crystals, many several meters in length. Ancient craft people would carefully removing surrounding rock with picks to  expose the high quality, and often transparent crystals. The Roman stone workers would slice the stone into thin sheets to be used as windows.

The people of Arboleas, Almeria, are investing and contributing a lot of voluntary time to excavate and prepare one of the Roman mines for visitors. The site is truly spectacular, from both a geological or historical point of view. And, in Cartagena, as in Pompei, we may view examples of how a strange, transparent stone was applied in antiquity. While we no longer use gypsum for windows, today we use vast amounts of gypsum in construction, much of which is extracted from ancient deposits, that once belonging to the Roman Empire.


Contributor: Tom Heldal
Subject: Cipollino Verde (Greece)

Tom Heldal

Cipollino Verde (Greece) 

At the southern part of the island of Evia, Greece, large deposits of a unique type of marble are found –the Cipollino Verde. This was one of the most popular coloured marbles of the Roman Period and examples of its use have been found in almost every corner of the Empire as far north as Britain. Production probably started in the 2nd Century BCE and continued through the Imperial Period until the 7th Century AD. The Romans called it Marmor Karystium after the small town Karystos on the southern tip of the Island. The Cipollino Verde is an impure calcite marble containing bands rich in silicate minerals, displaying a lively pattern of folded and sheared layers. The marble can still be purchased through several ornamental stone suppliers. 


Contributor: Tom Heldal
Subject: Oppdal Schist (Norway)