The Ancient Quarries & Aghios Minas Monastery Hike
A 6-km circular hike in rural Marathi, covering visits to the site of the ancient marble quarries and the fortified 17th c. Monastery of Aghios Minas. Easy caving adventure to seek ancient miners’ traces and a last vein of ‘lychnite’, the precious material of Venus de Milo & the Parthenon Marbles.
Description We meet at the entrance of the ancient quarries’ site just off Marathi village and we begin our guided exploration of the marble quarries that were operational for almost 2,500 years. Starting with the so-called “Cave of the Nymphs” (named after a 4th c. BC relief on the entrance marble wall), we visit the remains of the 19th c. instalations, but most importantly, the ancient man-made caves, where the prized ‘Parian Stone’ or ‘lychnite’ was extracted in the ancient Greek and Roman times by slaves, to be exported and used in sculpted masterpieces such as the Venus of Milos, the Hermes of Praxiteles, the Acropolis Kore, the Nike of Delos and the Nike of Samothrace. Using headlamps, we go underground into the gallery and tunnels of the Cave of Pan (one of the two major sites of ancient marble mining in Marathi), to look for ancient mining remains and markings, stalactites on marble, inscriptions created by visitors through the centuries, and finally a last vein of the (famous but now exhausted) ‘lychnite’, the splendid translucent kind of marble found only here.
Out of the cave and back on the ancient quarry trail, we climb the hillside with views over the whole ancient quarry site. On top of hill, we find the white-washed bulwark of the Monastery of Aghios Minas (17th c.), a small but excellent specimen of the fortified Byzantine and post-medieval monasteries of the Cyclades. The abandoned monastery is now private property, recently restored and well-kept and contains the old church of St. Minas, the patron saint of Marathi. After a tour of the premises, our return to base is an easy downhill stroll on dirt road, enjoying the serene, typically Cycladic rural landscape of Marathi, with stone-built, terraced vineyards and olive groves.
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In a nutshell [Ancient paths and marble quarries] Countryside/history/views, Easy walking w. some caving (not for the claustrophobic!), distance 6km, duration 2h30m-3h (incl. stops), elevation ±90m.