Metalia Limenaria

Known locally as 'The Iron Village', with the continuing settlement of Kalyvia (or St. George), Limenaria was once a coastal iron excavation on the southern point of the Greek island of Thassos. The first inhabitants of industry here were workers from the mountain village Kastro (Castle), in the heart of the island, which is now also isolated and forgotten (see previous albums). The region flourished in the beginning of the 20th century, when the German company “Spiedel“ began work here, running its mining excavation for export all over the world which gave the local harbour, which still exists today, its first taste of modern commercial activity.

The offices of the company, known as the palace or 'Palataki', were built in 1903 as a two-storied rectangular building with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, two little towers on its narrow facets, and a spiralling wooden staircase, constituting a vivid example of eclectic architecture influenced from central European design during a time period that was seeing a shift in styles across the continent, which explains why many people mistakenly assume the building is far older than it actually is. The palace looks over into the vast open horizon of the North Aegean Sea, and with its brilliantly bold colours and striking architecture, from a distance you almost can’t tell that it has been left derelict for over 50 years. The palace dominates the rocky cape on the coastline, but the industry here was once the beating heart of the area. Miner’s huts, houses, forgotten vehicles, signs leading seemingly to nowhere and a church that still stands hidden by the overgrowth that has settled in, permanently dividing the buildings from one another. All of this allowed us to put together an image of what it once looked like in its prime. Beneath, hidden away from the busy streets of the town are the iron mines themselves.

Although most relics to be found are from the 20th century onwards, mining activities for base and precious metals started in the 7th century B.C. with the Phoenicians, followed in the 4th century by the Greeks and then the Romans, so it is often hard to differentiate between the eras of some of the foundations which still survive here. Many of the buildings have crumbled yet some of the oldest still stand, including the kiln towers which are reported to have originated from far older mining efforts. Diving into the water, we were able to see relics of the docks that once existed on the coastline here, with the lifting crane still standing on the pier head and a signalling tower. Minerals and ore were lifted onto ships here and exported across the world, but once operations stopped the docks were taken back by the sea, leaving only the metal foundations to be found beneath the water.

Unlike many of the mines we have seen in the UK, most of the excavations here were done above ground (given the lack of drastic geological changes in the landscape throughout the islands past, the ore is far closer to ground level). The dry climate also causes the minerals to settle differently, which I found around the mine itself which was covered by a fine black metal giving the soil an impressive brown colour, but an absolute pain to clean off. The terrain is rich in cadmium and argentiferous lead (rich in silver), which Spiedel began to excavate in 1905 and ceased shortly after in 1912 due to the start of the First World War, which was a calling for all able bodied men to fight for their country. The exploitation was continued by the Belgian miners 'Vielle Montagne' in 1925 until 1930 when, once again, conflict obstructed progress owing to the financial crash in the build up to the Second World War. During this time the Germans returned to Limenaria, but under much different circumstances. Nazis occupied the island from 1941-1944 as a strategic naval point and reportedly used the palace as a base for their high ranking officers, with rumours of secret excavations that contributed to the expanding treasury of Nazi Gold finding its way back to the Third Reich. Many officers fled from here once the allies began closing in on Germany and began liberating mainland Greece in the autumn of 1944.

Once the war had ended, industrial regeneration across Europe resulted in increased demand, so eventually in 1957 another company poached the mines in parallel with local Greek operations. Overall it is estimated that over 3 million tonnes of iron ore were extracted from this small island throughout recorded history, however all activities in the region stopped for good in 1963. All in all, no single organisation ever claimed these mines for much longer than a decade at most, which explains the many layers of history and mining techniques that can be found here, indicating the industrial legacy of an entirely lost place of interest in an area so commonly overlooked by visitors who seek the postcard marble beaches on the coastline.

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