Marble from the Lahn
A historical project on the quarrying of stone
Quarrying is also part of mining. Stones, chalk, sand and gravel may at first glance seem less valuable, and quarries less interesting. However, these materials were and still are an essential component of our civilization. There would be no flour without millstones, no pottery without clay, no castles without stones, and no modern roads without road metal. This is why the department of mining history also deals with this important industry. Following on from the work of Christoph Bartels (slate villages) and Meinrad Pohl (millstones, tuff and trass from the volcanic eastern Eifel region), the plan is to investigate a further example from the industry within the framework of a dissertation project. This time the focus is on a type of stone which was used for building and decoration, the so-called “Nassau marble” or “Lahn marble”.
From a geologist’s point of view this is a cuttable, polishable limestone, formed about 380 million years ago from a tropical reef. The deposits are part of the Rhenish Massif (Rheinisches Schiefergebirge) and extend over a strip approx. 60 km long on both sides of the Lahn. “Lahn marble” was quarried and processed from the 16th century (if not earlier) until the 1970s.
Evidence of a highly developed “Lahn marble” industry can be found in a multitude of churches and palaces, public and private buildings, town squares and facades. The spectrum ranges from the mighty tombstones in the Mainz cathedral to the splendid Baroque staircase of the Würzburg Residenz and the sumptuous decoration of some of Wiesbaden’s villas and hotels. There is evidence that “Lahn marble” was exported from the end of the 19th century, and used for 20th-century building projects such as the Empire State Building in New York. But even on the Lahn itself traces have been preserved. Many abandoned quarries are still to be found, and show how extensively the area was quarried.
This topic presents a few unusual features: for example, there was a state-run “marble factory” in the prison at Diez. This institution came to have a leading role in the industry, and attained a strong position in the 19th century. Sources contain various complaints about the allegedly unbeatable competition for ‘poor’ master craftsmen and hard-working private entrepreneurs. This matter requires closer examination.
The aim of the project is to explore the development of the industry from the master craftsmen of the Baroque to the large factories of the late 19th century. Here the focus is on questions of economic and social history. Aspects related to technological, environmental and art history will not be overlooked, however.
Dr. Christoph Bartels
Prof. Dr. Helmut Maier (RUB)
Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum