The ancient silver mine greatly helped in financing the great Athenian Empire. This courtesy of UNESCO.
The region of Lavrio was the largest centre of mining in ancient times. The systematic exploitation of the area's mineral wealth began in 3200 BC and continued without a break until the end of the Archaic period in the sixth century BC. In the Bronze Age (2800-1100 BC), the mines of Lavrio supplied all the great cultures of the Aegean (the Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean) with silver, lead and copper. In the Classical period (fifth and fourth centuries BC) the exploitation of the mines by the Athenian state became particularly important for the financing of the great projects of the Golden Age of Athenian Democracy, and for the building of its fleet during the Persian Wars. Silver from Lavrio contributed to the strong foundations of the Athenian state because it made possible the minting of the famous silver coin, the Laurion 'owl'.
Throughout almost the entire region, a host of monuments from the Classical period bear witness to mining activity. Underground mining galleries, wide mineshafts, and the ruins of metal workshops which processed and washed the ore in large outdoor water cisterns, ore washeries and ruins of metallurgical workshops with furnaces to smelt the ore and produce the metal etc., are all visible on the surface. By the third century AD, mining had entered a period of decline.
The main minerals contained in the metalliferous deposits of Laurion are zinc and silver-lead, iron pyrite and BPG (blende, pyrite and galena). There are also small quantities of free minerals such as sulphur, silver, gold, copper, bismuth and other sulphur mineral.
The renaissance of modem Lavrio began in 1860, with the re-smelting of the ancient spoil-heaps, the reopening of the mining galleries and the development of new metallurgical work.
A period of political, economic and social events led to two large companies controlling the mines and their products: the Greek Metal Works Company of Lavrio (1873-1917) and the Compagnie Francaise des Mines du Laurium (the 'French Company'), with respect to the number of employees and production (1875-1982).
With the creation of the companies, the town of Lavrio began to expand. It was initially a small settlement for workers, but soon grew into the first 'company town' in nineteenth-century Greece. Indeed, Lavrio is the only example in Greece and the wider region of the Mediterranean of a company town created in a deserted region to meet the needs of industry.
The companies provided health care for their workers, opened schools and built churches, and in addition, constructed the port and the Athens-Lavrio railway.
After the Second World War, mining fell into decline in Lavrio and elsewhere. The mines closed in the 1970s, while the metallurgical industry finally ceased functioning in 1990.