Egyptian Marbles: between business and history

Marble is a stone that has been admired, loved and used for millennia: splendid, elegant and timeless, it is closely linked to the evolution of human civilizations. In fact, cultures from almost all over the world have a concrete relationship with marble, as evidenced by legacies traceable in some of the most beautiful monuments in the world.

Although the collective imagination tends to associate marble with the typical pale white stone with greyish veins, this rock is actually found in nature in a wide variety of colors, with veins of different shades deriving from the impurities present in the stone itself. Egyptian marbles are among the most varied, and for this reason they are widely used for public (urban) and private building furnishings, specifically in flooring and coverings for bathtubs, washbasins and kitchen shelves, or even stairs, which makes marble Egyptian a thriving industry nowadays.

the role of marble in ancient egypt

Marble was a material known and associated with prestigious roles, especially in ancient Egypt: this is demonstrated by the marble slabs found in the tombs of the pharaohs and high officials. In this regard, if we think of the centuries-old Egyptian pyramids, a treasure of humanity that has survived almost intact to this day, marble vases were among the objects most frequently placed inside these tombs specially built for the pharaohs. The purpose of these vases was to contain the organs so that they could accompany the deceased on their journey to the afterlife. These marble containers were carved in such a way as to take the form of animals that were sacred to Egyptian culture, and also enriched with precious gold inlays. In fact, marble and gold were considered the most precious materials in ancient Egypt, therefore perfect for being associated with the most important people in society.

varieties of egyptian marble

There are various types of Egyptian marble, which differ in color, origin and location. Among the most common are:

  • Basanite or “bekhen stone”, in the variants siltstone (fine grain) and greywacke (coarse grain), of metamorphic origin and dark gray or gray-green in colour), with quarries located in the eastern Egyptian desert;
  • Forum granite, so called due to the numerous column shafts in this material used in Trajan’s Forum: a tonalitic gneiss, of metamorphic origin, whose quarries are found on Gebel Fatira in the eastern Egyptian desert;
  • Red granite or syenite, of magmatic origin with quarries located in Upper Egypt;
  • Red porphyry, andesitic rock with hematite and piemontite, of magmatic origin, whose quarries are located on the Gebel Dokhan in the eastern Egyptian desert;
  • Cotognino alabaster or “Egyptian alabaster”, calcareous of sedimentary origin: a fine-grained opaque milky-white variant, or yellowish-beige with a fibrous appearance, with the main extraction site near the city of Hatnub;
  • The shaded coralline breccia or “Egyptian yellow and red breccia”: calcareous breccia with yellowish-white clasts immersed in a reddish cement rich in hematite;
  • The green breccia of Egypt, of metamorphic origin, with extraction sites located within the basanite extraction district;
  • The black and white granite: a quartz-diorite of magmatic origin known in two varieties, the black and white granite of Santa Prassede, with a darker color, and the black and white granite of Cairo, with a lighter color, extracted near the Wadi Barud;
  • Black serpentine porphyry, a trachy-andesite of magmatic origin, extracted from the same quarries as the red porphyry, on Wadi Umm Towat;
  • Egyptian green porphyry, a variant of red porphyry with a dark green background;
  • The serpentine moschinata, of metamorphic origin, with quarries near Wadi Atallah.

the marble industry in cairo

To date, Egypt is one of the main outlet markets for “made in Italy” stone technologies and is assuming an increasingly significant weight in Italian exports. Specifically, according to some Istat data processed by Confindustria Marmomacchine, if in 2016 Egypt represented the 21st outlet market (with 16.9 million euros of machinery exports), in 2017 the country jumped to sixth place (57, 9 million). In short, the engine of the stone industry in Egypt is made in Italy, since most of the machinery used by the over 550 local quarries to extract, cut and process several million tons of marble and granite every year has an Italian trademark. Among other things, it is reasonable to think that in Egypt marble also plays a primary role in the construction sector, which is constantly growing especially in Cairo, on the Red Sea and on the north coast. The business opportunities for Italian companies, therefore, are certainly not lacking.

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