History

LAVRIO

Lavrio is the southeastern-most region of Attica and is 52km from Athens. It extends to the peninsula of Sounion, where, in the 5th century BC, the ancient Greeks built a temple dedicated to the god Poseidon. In ancient times, Lavrio was known for its underground riches. Its entrails contained lead and silver. The name Lavrio – no wonder – comes from the word “lavra” which means ‘narrow passageway’, arcade and furthermore, mining shaft. 

The ancient Greeks took intensive advantage of Silver-Molybdate ores of the Lavriotic region for the production of metallic silver. We find silver being produced since 1500 BC at Thorikos (an area) of Lavrio. This silver was to be used for the making of luxurious artifacts, as well as for making coins. 

[fig. 1. – The Athenian 4-drachma coin.]

Well-known Athenian coinsmade of the silver of Lavriowere the Athenian 4-drachma coins1 (fig. 1). The 4-drachma coins of ancient Athens portrayed the goddess Athena on one side and on the other the owl (‘glauka’). And this is how these coins became known as ‘Lauriotic glaukes’. This same ‘glauka’ appears on the Greek version of the 1 Euro (fig. 2).

The first 4-drachma coin was made during the era of the tyrant Peissistratus (561-528 BC). At that time, the mines of Lavrio, as well as the mint of Athens, were privately owned facilities. Later, the legislator Kleisthenis included in his legislation the transition of the mines into state-owned facilities. And so, in the early 5th century BC the government leased the metal-bearing areas to entrepreneurs and the proceeds were distributed among the citizens. In 483 BC, after the discovery of a very rich mineral deposit, the proceeds of Athens were doubled. But they were not distributed among the citizens - as was the case - but after a suggestion by Themistokles they were used for the making of a magnificent fleet of 200 trireme galleys. It was with this fleet that the Athenians beat the Persians at Salamina in 480 BC.  

 

[fig. 2. – A Greek 1-Euro coin. The
‘glauka’ of Athenian 4-drachma coins is
portrayed.] 

The workers at the mines of Lavrio were – for the most part – slaves. Despite the fact that work in the mines was very hard, the ‘masters’ of the mining enterprises took good care of the well being of their slaves. And this was so, because the mining enterprises paid rent not only for the mines as well as the mining facilities, but also for the slaves. And so, they had to be in the position of returning them in good health. The economic power of Athens was based on the mining of Lavrio. Therefore, the decline of Lavrio contributed a great deal to the staggering of Athens. Lavrio was abandoned during the 1st cent BC and remained forgotten until the 19th century AD. In 40 AD Pomponius Mela writes: Thorikos and Vravron were at one time cities and are now simply names… 

The revival of Lavrio dates back to around 1865 AD with the founding of the company called ‘Ilarion Roux et Cie’ (1865-1873). Following that, the Greek (1873- 1917) and the French (1875-1981) company produced metal silver-molybdate, based on the techniques that our miner-forefathers had pointed out. 

Today, the ruins of the ancient mining and metallurgic establishments (mining shafts, enrichment ‘washing-sites’, kilns for melting or better, the reduction and refining process) as well as the remnants of the metallurgic industries of the past centuries, render La a vast museum of mining and metallurgy. Where the establishments of the French Mining Company of La were, is now the TechnologicalCivilizing Park of the National Metsovian Institute of Technology.

The colors of the sunset on the temple of Poseidon, the hills of dross, the smells of the landscape of Attika, the pine tree and the aspalathos bush, the saltiness of the cliffs, the whispering of the air through the leaves of the palm tree, the ‘guts’ of the earth which still remain hot… all these ‘paint’ a special landscape, which spurs the interest of the visitor. 

 

[fig. 3. – The Town Hall as it is today.]

The temple of Poseidon, god of the Sea, was built in 440 BC and still remains fixedly gazing at the Aegean. This Greek Archipelago got its name from Aegeas, the king of Athens. The legend says that believing that his son – Thiseas – was dead, the Athenian king put an end to his own life by jumping off the Sacred Cliff of Sounion upon facing his son’s ship ‘dressed in black’.  

On the foot of Velatouri Hill, at Thorikos, the theatre of Thorikos which was built in the 6th century BC, is preserved and is the oldest preserved theatre in Greece… In the same locality we meet the dome-shaped Mykinaician tombs, the temple of the goddess Dimitra and Kori, ore enrichment sites and a mining shaft on the entrance of which a plotted map of the shaft was carved, in order that the workers would not get lost within its labyrinth.