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Ancient Lavrion

Date of Submission: 16/01/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Greece to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Region of Attica, Regional Unit of Eastern Attica
Ref.: 5857
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Description

The Lavreotiki area, at the SE end of Attica, was the largest silver-mining centre in both ancient and modern Greece. The mine workings cover an area of 120 km2, from Mt Paneion in Keratea to Cape Sounio and Legraina. Most of the Lavreotiki is protected by law and is a designated archaeological site, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a historical site, while the area around Sounio is a National Forest planted in the mid-20th century (Natura 2000 site totalling 36,000 m2, of which 4,900 m2 are its core). Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis) cover most of the forest. The flora also includes Mediterranean plants such as wild olive trees, strawberry trees, lentisc, kermes oak, cyclamen and an endemic species of knapweed (Centaurea laureotica), while the local fauna consists of various reptiles, mammals such as hedgehogs, hares and foxes, and many bird species. The forest also contains the impressive “Chaos” sinkhole, a basin-shaped karstic depression 55 m deep and 120 m in diameter.

The Lavreotiki is a mineral and chemical museum, as its subsoil contains over 265 types of mineral, 6.8% of those known worldwide. Of these, the silver and lead ores (cerussite, galena) were heavily exploited in both ancient and modern times, while zinc and iron-manganese ores were particularly mined in the latter.

The systematic exploitation of the mineral wealth of the area began during the transitional period from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age (3200 BC). In the Bronze Age, the mines of Lavrio supplied the great civilisations of the Aegean (Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean) with silver, lead and copper. During the Classical period (5th and 4th c. BC) the exploitation of the mines by the city of Athens became extremely important to the creation of the great Athenian fleet and the financing of the major building projects of the Athenian Hegemony. The silver of Lavrio set the foundations of the city-state of Athens, making it possible to mint the famous silver “Owl” coin of Athens, and thus transported by trade to all parts of the known world.

Throughout the area, underground galleries, kilns, ore washeries, large water cisterns and the ruins of metallurgical workshops dated to the Classical period testify to the intense mining activity carried out by thousands of slaves. Scattered settlements-industrial villages, secular and religious buildings (including the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio), fortifications and cemeteries make up the overall operation of the site: economic, military, religious, cultural and administrative.

From the 3rd c. AD the area entered a period of decline, and in the 6th c. AD the mines were abandoned. However, Sounio and Lavrio continued to be reference-points. Greek and foreign travellers from Late Antiquity to the 19th century visited the Lavreotiki and recorded their impressions on paper and canvas.

The regeneration of Lavrio began in 1860 with the exploitation of the ancient tailings and slags, the exploration of ancient galleries and the opening of new ones, the development of transport services (the railway in 1885, the construction of a port), and the construction of modern metallurgical plants based on the cutting-edge technology of the time. A period of political, economic and social upheaval (the Lavreotiki Affair) led to the establishment of two companies, the Greek Lavrion Metallurgical Company and the French Compagnie Française des Mines du Laurium, ushering in a new period of prosperity. Specialists were hired from all over the world, while the numerous local labour force was also mobilized. New villages, churches and schools were built. Mores and customs were transformed and Lavrio became a multicultural industrial centre, one of the largest in the Mediterranean.

After the Second World War, the mines began to fall into disuse, closing down in the 1970s. Mining activity in the area finally ceased altogether in 1990. Since 1994, the site of the Compagnie Française plant has been occupied by the Lavrio Technological and Cultural Park, run by the National Technical University of Athens.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Lavreotiki area is an outstanding example of a technological whole and a cultural landscape. It is a testimony to the extensive mining and metallurgical activity (from as early as 3200 BC) that brought the city-state of Athens to prominence as a dominant power in Classical antiquity. The mines were reopened in the 19th century, following the creation of the modern Greek state, marking the attempt to industrialise it. Modern metallurgical plants were constructed based on the cutting-edge technology of the time. Specialists were hired from all over the world and Lavrio became a multicultural industrial centre, the first in modern Greece and one of the largest in the Mediterranean.

Pits, adits, mining shafts over 100m deep leading to galleries several kilometres long, workshops, ore washeries, kilns, cisterns and other archaeological finds scattered across the whole of the Lavreotiki bear witness to the marvellous early and pioneering technique. The settlements-industrial villages, the secular and religious buildings, the fortifications and cemeteries make up the overall operation of the site in antiquity: economic, military, religious, cultural and administrative.

At Cape Sounio, the Temples of Poseidon and Athena Sounias are connected to the work of important architects and sculptors of the 5th c. BC, while their archaeological peculiarities make them reference points in the evolution of Classical temple construction. The theatre of Thorikos, its first building phase dating back to the 6th c. BC, is one of the oldest surviving Greek theatres. 

Criterion (ii): During the course of the centuries-long operation of the mines of the Lavreotiki, there were long periods of intensive production (Classical period - modern times). The intensification of production necessitated the application of innovative techniques and the use of the cutting-edge technology of each period to process the ore. In Classical times, for instance, techniques were used that would make the processing of poorer minerals financially viable: excellent and ingenious beneficiation techniques were applied to refine the ore in special areas known as ore washeries. The way the ore washeries were designed, with water recycled through a system of channels and settling basins, hydrodynamic flow through funnel-shaped outlets, and the use of wooden sluices as barymetric instruments, combined with the economical use of water in an semi-arid environment such as Lavrio, were excellent technical inventions due to which these permanent installations form unique technological testimonies.

The process used to mine and refine the ore, smelting, cupellation and reduction, was basically the same in the modern era, in the 19th and 20th centuries, when the mining companies established at Lavrio carried out exactly the same work, in the same area, guided by the ancient mining works with the necessary modernisation of transport (by railway), of the refining systems, and of the smelting and cupellation furnaces, made possible by the Industrial Revolution.

Criterion (iv): The Lavreotiki area is an outstanding example of a technological whole and a cultural landscape. It is a testimony to the extensive mining and metallurgical activity (from as early as 3200 BC) that brought the city-state of Athens to prominence as a dominant power in Classical antiquity.

Pits, adits, mining shafts over 100m deep leading to galleries several kilometres long, workshops, ore washeries, kilns, cisterns and other archaeological finds scattered across the whole of the Lavreotiki allow a full reconstruction of the operation of the mines by the Athenian state, from the terms under which the mines were leased to individual Athenians, the terms of exploitation, the relationships between freemen and slaves and the type of work engaged in by each, to the marvellous early and pioneering technique.

The excavated settlements-industrial villages, the secular and religious buildings, the fortifications and cemeteries, etc. make up the overall operation of the site: economic, military, religious, cultural and administrative.

Furthermore, at Cape Sounio the Temples of Poseidon and Athena Sounias are connected to the works of important architects and sculptors of the 5th c. BC, while their archaeological peculiarities make them reference points in the evolution of Classical temple construction. The theatre of Thoriko, its first building phase dating back to the 6th c. BC, is one of the oldest surviving Greek theatres. 

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Most of the Lavreotiki is protected by law and is a designated archaeological site, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a historical site, while a large part of it is a National Forest. The Lavreotiki preserves all the elements of its outstanding universal value. A full picture emerges of the operation and organisation of the Lavrio mines, as the archaeological remains are preserved in excellent condition, allowing a full reconstruction of the operation of the mines by the Athenian state.

Most of the Greek and French mining company buildings of the modern era have been preserved and restored. The site of the Compagnie Française plant is now occupied by the Lavrio Technological and Cultural Park, run by the National Technical University of Athens, which is responsible for the upkeep of the area and the installations.

At Thorikos, projects to modify the archaeological site have already been implemented, while restoration work is in progress on the theatre. Modification projects are being carried out at the Sounio archaeological site. The archaeological site of Souriza has already been enhanced and is open to the public. It is important to note that all the interventions are being implemented in accordance with international intervention principles. 

Comparison with other similar properties

No mines as old as those proposed here have been entered on the World Heritage List to date. The World Heritage Monuments category includes the extensive mines and gold-processing installations of Las Médulas in Spain, while the Tentative List in the same category includes the mineral mining and processing installations in Andalusia (also in Spain). Both these sites are dated to the Roman period. The Lavreotiki is a different case, representing an unbroken cognitive, technological and socioeconomic evolution in the field of mining and metallurgical history, going back three millennia earlier than the Spanish examples. Moreover, in the case of the Lavreotiki, the whole operation of the site (economic, military, religious, cultural and administrative) in antiquity is depicted, while it also acquired a significant socioeconomic dimension in modern times. The Historical Landscape category includes two mining areas: the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape in Japan, and the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape in the UK. Both these cultural landscapes are dated much later, the first to the 16th and the second to the 18th and 19th century AD. They are therefore completely different landscapes, bearing no relationship to Lavrio with regard to either technological level or landscape (the Japanese mines are located on a island with subtropical forest, while those in the UK are on flat farmland).