“I found a City of bricks and left it a city of Marble”- Emperor Augustus
A testament to natural stone’s enduring beauty and strength is the fact that monuments built more than 5000 years ago are still standing today.
The Egyptians were the first civilization to extensively quarry and build with natural stone. They built most of their monuments of granite and limestone. The only remaining wonder of the ancient world, The Great Pyramid of Cheops, was built of massive limestone blocks around 2560 BC. Visitors to the pyramid today marvel at its size, but that it appears blocky and rough. In its day the Cheops pyramid was a testimony of what could be achieved with natural stone. The pyramid was once lined with perfectly smooth casing stones, but over the years, pieces of the meticulously engineered stone were stolen to build homes and temples. The interior burial chamber for the pharaoh is built of granite blocks hewn so perfectly that a piece of paper cannot be slid between them, even today. The ancient Egyptians likely harbored many astounding secrets about stonework.
The Greeks were the first to bring natural stone into the home. Ancient Greek literature refers to baths and pools being lined with marble. Many references to the use of Thassos marble in the bathroom occur, and in fact, marble is still commercially quarried today. The Greeks continued to perfect their quarrying and shaping techniques, and built such monumental marble structures as the Parthenon, the Theseum, and the Temple of Zeus. In fact, the marble which was used for these very buildings is still quarried today, under the commercial name Dionyssomarble.
The Romans built extensively with both marble and granite.”All roads lead to Rome” as the saying goes is a testament to the use of granite. They were, above all, engineers and road builders, and they could find no better paving stone than granite. Though quarrying it was difficult work, they lined many of their roads with granite. Public baths were popular, and many were constructed of granite. The Romans also extensively used granite for columns, ancient ones can be seen today in the Pantheon in Rome.
While the Romans loved granite for its durability and strength, they loved marble above all else because of its beauty. Emperor Augustus once said of conquering a city, “I found a city of bricks, and left it a city of marble.” Unlike previous civilizations, the Romans built their structures out of brick and strong mortar, and then lined them with marble slabs. Because they were not dealing with huge blocks of heavy marble for the infrastructure, they were able to build more rapidly. Their technique is still used today in the construction of state buildings, museums, and monuments across the world.
The Romans quarried marble and granite all over their country, but often found that the most beautiful marbles came from Greece. They praised the marble Cipollino of Karystos for its beautiful green color, and that same marble is quarried and distributed in the present day.