History of Building Stones in Iran
Extracting and using building stones in Iran, has a long history. Using these stones as building stones or dimension stones was ordinary in the first millennium of formation of civilization in Iran. The remaining vestiges of using them in Persepolis, Pasargadae, Takht-e Soleymān and many other Islamic and Sasanian buildings is distributed all over the country.
Many decorative objects made out of Marble and Onyx used as dishes and jewelry are now exhibited in museums of Iran and other countries. Discoveries also show that, these rocks were used as interior decoration in buildings. Discovery, extraction, transportation, cutting, polishing and using dimension stones which were performed in traditional ways, has been transformed profoundly in recent decades. The most important part of this transformation is using modern methods in production and use of these resources. Using Non-explosive extraction methods and deploying hard-cutting machines are the most important changes in Iran’s rock industry, which have taken place in the recent decade and have expanded production and consumption of dimension stones.
Key Words: History of Iran’s Rocks, Father of Iran’s Rock Industry, Rock Industry, Evolution of Processing Technology
1- Father of Iran’s Rock Industry
“Ghanbar Rahimi” whose knowledge of the quarries was second to none and who was known as “Iran’s Sultan of Stone” was born at soove village in Isfahan province. He is called father of Iran’s rock industry because of his great services toward Extraction and discovery of mines. He has discovered many mines such as, Abbas Abad, Atash Kuh and Marble of Joshaghan.
Ghanbar Rahimi, Dubbed as Father of Iran’s Rock Industry
He donated some Travertine blocks to Azadi Tower, some expensive stone columns to Ivane Ghebleh (a mosque in South Khorasan province) and Onyx stones to shrines of Imam Hussain and Hazrat Abbas. His statue is placed in one of roundabouts of Italy as father of Iran’s rock industry. There are 86 dimension stone mines in Italy and it is one of the greatest exporters of dimension stones in the world, but in the past they imported rock from Iran and exported in to other counties under the name of Italy.
Ghanbar Rahimi in Soltaniyeh (1368), Fourth from Right
2- History of Using Dimension Stones
Application of rocks in buildings dates from 12 thousand years ago, and discovering ancient structures like The Egyptian pyramids and structures in Iran and Rome has stunned many people, considering the technology at that time.
Since Paleolithic and Neolithic eras when human had not yet discovered Iron, they used rock to meet their needs. Knowing the properties of Silicate stones they used them to make tools. As human civilization improved, application of stones have also transformed, the best example is buildings with stone facings. These changes are very noticeable in Iran, Greece, Egypt and Italy. Application of stones started with using large blocks, but as the technology went on, weight of stones decreased and they paid more attention to color, polishability, texture and strength of the stones. Nowadays stone plates that are beautiful, colorful, polished and low in thickness are used more frequently.
3- Building Stone Resources in Iran
There are totally 15 billion tonnes of dimension stone resources in the world, which includes, Granite, Marble, Onyx and Travertine. There are 4.7 Million tonnes of resources in Iran, which makes it the fourth country in the world, but considering color variety and quality, Iran is ranked first in the world. In respect to the importance of mining section to the country’s economic growth, it is highly recommended to give more attention to this section.
Using stones in Iran started with making tools for hunting and living and then gradually developed. Objects discovered near Kerman province in Iran proves that this industry started from 4500 years before Christ, and objects were made of Green stone of Kerman which is still produced. Objects found in a cave (8000-1100 BC) near Behshahr (Mazandaran Province) shows that they used stones only to make tools for hunting, agriculturing and skinning animals. Application of stones in historical buildings is also very important, some of the most important instances include, Persepolis and palaces which are built during Achaemenid Empire and Sasanian Empire.
Extracting building stones started in 1952 in Iran, but it was 1987 when extraction method was improved. In 1987 the first adamantine wire cutting machine was made and deployed by a company affiliated to Ministry of metals and mines.
Two main kinds of stones are used in the structure, light-colored limestone extracted from Kuh-e Rahmat in Shiraz and grey stones, extracted from Sivand and Majd Abad (25Km south of Persepolis) mines. These stones were carried to desired places in blocks as heavy as 30-40 tonnes, and it is worth mentioning that weight of only one of the columns is 17 tonnes.
Structure of Persepolis
To extract the needed blocks, they first dug a hole around it (30-40 Cm width), then they bored some holes on its bottom surface and embedded wooden wedges. Finally they poor water over the wooden wedges and they become larger, as a result the stones are easily extracted.
Majd Abad Mine in Marvdasht (on the left), Extraction Holes in Kuh-e Rahmat (on the right)
3-2- Pasargadae (Tomb of Cyrus the Great)
The stones that are used in Pasargadae and Persepolis include white limestone (similar to Onyx), grey stone similar to Granite in hardness and sometimes black Marble which is very fragile. This black stone after 25 centuries has become very fragile and is easily broken into pieces, but the other 2 types are very durable. White Marble stones are extracted from Sivand mountain and black ones are extracted from Tang-e Siah and Tang-e Bolaghi Mountains.
Pasargadae (Tomb of Cyrus the Great)
4- Evolution of Rock Processing Technology in Iran
In spite of Iran’s ancient civilization and stone structures, Iran’s stone industry is not that old. The first sawing machine was made, when building “Marble Palace” started in 1928. It used some hanging weights to cut things. The next machine was made in Mashhad by Goldschmidt in 1933 and another machine similar to this was also made by a company.
The first stone cutting factory was founded by “Astan Quds Razavi” in 1938, in Mashhad. This factory was built by German experts and was launched in 1939. It was built to supply needed stones for the “Shrine of Imam Reza”, but after that, the produced stones were used in Iran Central Bank in Tehran, Bank Sepah Central Branch in Tehran, Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade building, Marble Palace, and so forth. This factory had two sawing machines one cutter and one bridge saw, and two polishing machines made by Germany. In 1949, one Iranian bridge saw and in 1953 one Iranian polishing machine was added to the factory.
The cutter had 40 metal blades which were adjustable and placed 3-5 Cm from each other. The blades were able to move forward, backward, upward and downward. Belts and wheels conveyed the power and one electromotor supplied the needed power. A shower was placed over the blades which poured water into the blades and stone.
In 1320, Goldschmidt and his Iranian coworker invented a new sawing machine in Javadieh, Tehran. In the meantime Nazi Abad factory increased its sawing machines to 11, and supplied stones to Imam Ali and Imam Hussain shrines in Najaf and Karbala and “Arg mosque” in Tehran. In 1948 another factory was launched in the vicinity of 17 Shahrivar roundabout in Tehran.
Regardless of production problems, there were several problems in service section, and for example discharging stones from trucks, which was done by using roller and crowbar until 1961, when one of the factories imported an overhead crane. In 1961 the first sawing machine with 60 Quartz blades were launched which used Quartz powder. In 1963, a new design was employed, they used a cast Iron base for the blades and switched from weight system to helical axle. This system was modified later and is still being used. Stone production continued in the same way until 1966, then the first sawing machine with adamantine blades was imported to the country, and made it easy to mass-produce stone. It is worth mentioning that, this method had been common in foreign countries since 15 years earlier. Until end of year 1964, there were totally 10 stone cutting factories in Iran, one of them was located in Mashhad and Isfahan and the others in Tehran. Number of stone cutting factories in Iran has profoundly increased in recent years.
1- K. Alipour, 2010, History of Geology and Mines of Iran
2- M. Ataie, 2008, Extraction of Building Stones, Shahrood University of Technology Publication
4- SMT Newspaper (Aban 26th, 1393), 87, P.12