Right in the middle of the small Greek island of Paros are what used to be the world’s most famous marble quarries from which the world’s most coveted marble was extracted during the 3rd to 7th centuries BC. The Marathi marble quarries were mined by hundreds of thousands of slaves during these times, producing ultra-translucent marble with a stunning transparency of 7cm – that is, you can see the light shine through the pure white stuff for 7 whole centimetres. If you can picture any Greek sculpture, it probably has some Parian marble in it. If you can think of the most famous one – the Venus de Milo in the Louvre – than you have pictured the beauty of Parian marble.
For all these reasons, and for the love of adventure and discovery, you’re going to want to switch up your beach bumming and wine sipping and check out the ancient Marathi marble quarries on your trip to Paros.
BEFORE YOU GO
Make sure you are wearing proper shoes. The tunnels leading down into the earth are wet, making the marble and rocks slippery, and the rubble is loose. You have to descend quite slowly to make sure what your stepping on won’t roll away under your feet.
Bring a torch! The quarries shut out the light surprisingly quickly, so that you’re plunged into darkness just a few metres in. I don’t know how, but we somehow completely forgot about this and had to use out phones’ torches, which doesn’t quite does the trick so well.
And then you’re going to want to download maps.me. Google maps has the location only sort of mapped. We didn’t have the luxury of maps.me when we were looking for the quarries (we only learnt about it from a fellow traveler on a different island in Scotland a few weeks later), but since I’ve known about it, it has become my favourite map app for travel. It has almost everything mapped, including the sites of the BOTH cave entrances.
HOW TO GET THERE
First, you need to head to Lefkes from Parikia. On your way there, about 10 minutes into the drive, you will see a brown heritage board pointing out the ancient marble quarries to your right (first marker on the left in google maps). Only a minute or so later, at the next right turn, is another such board (second marker in the green section). HMMM….WHICH ROAD TO TAKE???
WELL. If you want to park as close to the quarries as you can, turn right at the first sign. The second sign points right to a pedestrian-only road. You cannot drive onto this road.
So you have two options here:
- Park your car somewhere along the main side of the road and walk about 400 meters on the pedestrian-only road to the caves.
- Turn at the first signposted right to park closer.
If you are parking closer, you will find yourself driving through the small village of Marathi. Very soon after you’ve turned right, a ‘marble quarry’ signpost will tell you to head left at the fork.
Don’t drive too much further after this left-hand fork. A few bends later you will see a small open caste quarry. We parked our car here.
Just across from this quarry you will spot some abandoned ruins. These were supposedly French mining company buildings, who wanted to open up the quarries in the 19th century in order to extract Parian marble for Napoleon’s tomb. The entrances to the caves are just behind these buildings. There’s another sign pointing it out.
If you opted for option 1 (parking along the main road and taking the paved pedestrian walkway in), you will find the quarries on your left, and the ruins on your right.
TWO DIFFERENT ENTRANCES
The caves are behind some wire fences, but you only need to swing open the gate, and voilá. Access granted.
The first entrance to your left is the easiest of the entrances. There are clearly built walls leading down to the entrance, and even when you’ve entered the quarry, you will see the angular shapes of clearly defined walls inside.
The second entrance is just to the left of the first one, and is a bit less official-looking and way more…cavey. You have to clamber over some bigger stones to get to the mouth of the cave, and there is way more rubble lying around, making it a bit more challenging. It is also a bit steeper than the first.
Supposedly the two entrances connect at the bottom, where the tunnels level out, so you should be able to go in one and out the other. We did not attempt to walk in one entrance and out the other – the sunset was catching up with us and we still had that post-adventure snacking to do in Lefkes – so…don’t blame me if you fall into some deep dark quarry hole down there.
I would definitely recommend doing this if you have an hour to spare in Paros. It’s quite a stunning contrast to the usual suntanning, eating, drinking, lazing-around kind of Greek island activities, and it’s really something special. If you’ve ever looked at a Greek marble sculpture and wondered how in the world you even begin to chisel a big block of marble to form something so beautiful, then this experience adds a whole other layer to these wonderments. There’s no real way to comprehend the kind of labour and time it took to open up the earth all those centuries ago, to extract, in the deep darkness, something so purely white. But you can go and feel the earth grow cold and wet and completely and utterly dark, and then you can pick up a little shard of marble, turn around and hold it to the light to see the sun illuminate the translucent rock from behind so that you can see the dull silhouette of your fingers on the other side of it.