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6 Life of a Quarry

Quarries are sometimes dug so deep into the earth that they begin to flood. In order to keep using the quarry this water needs to be drained out. Water was a big problem until the 17th century when various kinds of pumping devises began to be used. As soon as the pumping stops, however, the quarry fills with water. Many abandoned quarries are flooded. When they fill with water they frequently become favourite local swimming holes.

Abandoned, quarries take on other identities. The quarries that tunnel into the earth are called 'cave' quarries. Underground quarries have served as meeting places (religious conspiratorial, criminal), protection in wartime, or as wine cellars. Mushrooms are grown in abandoned quarries in France. The quarries under Paris were turned into catacombs. It has been suggested that caves of many sorts, including abandoned quarries, were the first museums in the sense that they accidently played the role of preservation. Not just things purposefully hidden in caves but many other things have survived only because they were accidentally sealed up in caves. Quarries have become traps for invaders, and frequently the sunken floor of the quarry offer protection from wind but not sun, making it useful for protected gardens. There are quarries with superb acoustic qualities and have been used for concerts or theatre.


Disused and water-filled Kemany pink granite quarry, Aberdeenshire, ScotlandCathedral-like interior of the Henraux marble quarry in the Apennine mountains near Pietrasanta, Italy


The earliest pit quarries were probably those dug through the chalk to get to the best layers of flint for flint knapping. Open pit quarries are probably the most common quarries today. They can be experienced as roofless rooms open to the sky. Their sense of a space is completely embedded in the landscape. Almost all quarries have a strong and attractive architecture.

Underground quarries are most likely to be limestone or marble. Some early limestone quarries were probably expanded from already existing caves. As work continues over the years an underground quarry can become vast, and the passages confusing. The Labyrinth on Crete was originally a quarry. It is easy to forget, in our world of electricity and portable lights that for most of history these caves would have been very dark. No wonder Theseus needed the ball of string that Ariadne gave him to find his way out. It was not just the twisted passages. The double-sided axe, which is the symbol of Crete, is a quarrying tool. The histories are intertwined. The escape of Theseus from the labyrinthine quarry followed the exact path that the now-absent stone once took — moving into the light and closer to the sun.

"Etymologically the evidence does point to quarries as the prototype of the Labyrinth. Not only was the labrys — the double axe — a divine symbol; in antiquity it served as the quarrier's tool."

- Bernard Rudofsky

Mazes have often been associated with the founding of cities. It may not just be the twisted way that passages in a city tend to relate to each other, but the existence elsewhere of an anti-city, an emptiness of the quarry from which the city extracted its elevation above the earth. In cave quarries the inside of the mountain can be moved to the outside without disturbing its shell. Open quarries move stone from underground to above ground, leaving an emptiness equivalent to the city, which is somewhere else. In Paris it is accurately said that under the foundations of the city is another city.


Balmoral red granite, Eastern FinlandIn this exhausted Portland limestone mine there is an eerie stillness. A quiet, empty and depopulated architecture.


The geometry of the angled blocks of the quarry against the organic flow of the landscape is undeniably architectural. These orderly relational spaces may actually have influenced architecture. Cave quarries are known to have cathedral-like interiors even with columns, strikingly reminiscent of the spaces that will come later when the removed stone actually builds a cathedral. Quarries resemble architectural sites, including columns, archways, and walkways, but by necessity preceding them.

The physical space of a quarry is created as a byproduct of paying attention to something else. A quarry is the waste product of an industry defined by removal. The residue of a quarry is not only the obvious pile of waste stone and overburden, but also the vacuum-like space left by what has been taken away. The poignant absence of what is not there hints at some kind of presence somewhere else. A quarry leaves emptiness behind.

Some quarries waste up to 75% of the extracted rock. Older quarries are often surrounded by mountains of rubble. It is possible to have a quarry that produces stone for every purpose and yet nothing is wasted. Dimensional blocks would be cut first to be used for building or sculpture. Off-cuts could be cut for paving and tiles. Smaller chips will be sorted by size and quality, bagged, and sent to be processed into other products. Sometimes stone powder is reconstituted with heat and pressure.

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