S. V. Zagraevsky
Published in Russian: Çàãðàåâñêèé Ñ.Â. Íîâûå èññëåäîâàíèÿ ïàìÿòíèêîâ àðõèòåêòóðû Âëàäèìèðî-Ñóçäàëüñêîãî ìóçåÿ-çàïîâåäíèêà. M., Àëåâ-Â, 2008. ISBN 5-94025-099-8
By the 50th anniversary of Vladimir-Suzdal
Organization of production and processing of white stone in Ancient Russia
1. The significance of white stone construction for
The term “white stone” usually refers to the bright
limestone of Carboniferous period of Paleozoic era, situated in the central
regions of European part of contemporary Russia (Fig. 11), but it is
often referred also to sandstone, dolomite, limestone of Permian age around the
Volga, and many types of limestone, travertine and alabaster lying in
Transnistria. Hence, a broader definition of white stone is used – as any
white-yellowish stone, good for treatment, with non-shining surface, not
marble. Nevertheless, in this study we shall pay most attention to the
extraction and processing of white stone in its narrow sense – as Carboniferous
limestone, lying in the central regions of European part of
1. Map of the occurrence of limestone deposits in the central part of
First of all, let us look at some provisions which show exceptional significance of white stone not only for ancient Russian architecture, but also for history of Ancient Russia.
Byzantine churches were built of plinthite or in mixed media – «opus mixtum»; of stone – only in a few fringes of
In Galitsky principality white stone construction started in 1110-1120s, in Suzdal – in 1152 (the justification of the latter date we shall give in Chap. 3 and 4). In pre-Mongolian period 95% of the buildings of Suzdal land and 100% of the buildings of Galitsky principality3 were built of white stone.
According to calculations by the author in the book "Yuri Dolgoruky and ancient Russian white stone architecture”, the building of white stone was about ten times more expensive than of plinthite (due to much more complicated production, transportation and processing that we shall often see in Sections 3-5)4. Reliability of white stone buildings in the Russian climate was significantly lower than of plinthite5. The beauty of white stone, much praised in the popular literature, was not an advantage, too: plinthite walls were grouted and whitened, and white stone buildings in a few years after the construction became dirty-gray because of smoke from stoves and frequent fires, and the practice of cleaning them appeared only in the XIX century.
Thus, white stone as a building material lost to plinthite (and especially to formed brick) on all indicators.
But in the XII century, when in
That was the Western example that made Galician, and
then Suzdal princes turn to white stone building – expensive and unreliable,
but "imperial". In Chap. 2 we shall show that the immediate precursor
of white stone temples of Ancient Russia was a huge Romanesque cathedral in
Speyer – the tomb of emperors of “Holy
Thus, the prestigious white stone building became a
hallmark of two dynamically developing principalities –
This is of the great importance of the white-stone building in Russian history. It has become one of the main components of the process of Ancient Russia entering in the leading European countries8 – the process, interrupted for a long time only by Mongol invasion.
Characteristically, that even in the hardest times of Mongol Yoke Ancient Russian builders did not switch to the cheap and reliable plinthite, and continued to build exclusively in "European" white stone. And, apparently, it became one of the factors that enabled Suzdal grand duchy, which became an "ulus" of Horde, not to lose its spiritual self, to throw off the hated yoke and to be reborn under a new name – Moscow Russia9.
Only in the end of the XV century, when craftsmen of
Western European Renaissance completely switched to much more reliable, cheap
and practical brick construction, the expression of state power and imperial
ideology in stone became meaningless. Then in
The last major white stone church was Assumption
Later, white-stone churches in
2. Exploration of quarries and mining regions
So, in 1152 white stone construction in
Suzdal began. Yuri Dolgoruky (born in the beginning of 1090s, died in 1157,
ruled in Suzdal since 1113 (perhaps since 109610), the Grand Prince
Before the starting of the construction, it was necessary to reconnoiter sites for future quarries.
The fact that the land of Vyatichians – along the rivers Oka, Moscow,
Pakhra and Desna – there are enormous deposits of stone, is likely to have been
known since the time of colonization of this region in XI-XII centuries (under
Yaroslav the Wise and Vladimir Monomakh). The main transportation was held by
rivers, and at their banks numerous exits of stone could be seen. It could be
known about the deposits also near the
Yuri Dolgoruky, starting white stone building in his principality, could not be interested in the huge additional costs of stone transportation for several hundred kilometers. Accordingly, the prince was to give the craftsmen the task to find white stone as close to the places of future construction as possible.
The idea, where in the North-Eastern regions of
But in the XII century, of course, nobody knew the depth of available white stone deposits even approximately. And we can imagine how many unsuccessful exploratory excavations were done until Suzdal "geologists" were convinced that it was impossible to produce high-quality stone closer than several hundred kilometers.
Consequently, the exploration of the quarries was opened at least a few years before 1152.
Where the first Ancient Russian stone quarries were, we can only guess.
In the 1950-1960s the micropaleontological tests showed the affiliation
of stone of Dolgoruky’s temples to Myachkovo horizon of limestone deposits12.
Consequently, stone was mined in the southwest of Suzdal principality, not far
The main pre-Mongolian trade route linking
Suzdal princes hardly acquired stone far from the protected trade route
in the uninhabited forest region between the Moskva and the
Consequently, the most likely region of white stone production in the middle of the XII century were environs of modern villages Upper and Lower Myachkovo – the closest extraction to the Suzdal region, where high-quality stone lies close to the surface.
In this case, the average distance from the quarries to the construction
sites was: conventional (straight) – about
In addition to the results of micropaleontological analysis of 1950-1960s, we can site other reasons why the production of building materials for the first white stone Suzdal churches was unlikely in other regions:
– Starytsa is farther from the major cities of Suzdal principality
– it is unknown if high-quality stone was extracted in Dorogomilovo (now
– the distance from Zvenigorod and Mozhaisk to major cities in Suzdal land was even more than from Dorogomilovo;
– from Kasimov (in the middle of XII century – Gorodets Meshchersky) there was no direct trade route to the major cities of Suzdal principality – impassable Meshchera swamps interfered. Consequently, stone still was to be carried by the Yauza, and the path was even longer than that from Myachkovo;
– in the modern settlements Kovrov, Melekhovo and Sudogda limestone of
good quality is found at a considerable depth (in Melekhovo career, according
to observations of the author of this book, – at least
Later quarrying regions were growing in parallel with the increase of
For example, in the southwest of Suzdal land in pre-Mongol times it was
likely to spread the quarries from Myachkovo toward modern
Apparently, the region Kovrov – Melekhovo – Sudogda became available for
Tver at the time of its state independence (XIII-XV centuries) possessed Staritsky quarries.
And since the beginning of XVI century the territories beyond the
Until the middle of XV century stone construction in
And only in parallel with the beginning of private stone building (since mid XV century – by boyars, since the beginning of XVI century – also by merchants) private quarries of nobles, merchants and artisans could appear.
3. Efficiency of stone mining
The vast majority of white stone buildings of Ancient Russia was built in Old Roman half-rubble technology (on the place of future wall firstly two parallel walls of well-treated white stone are built, the internal and external, and then the interval between them is filled by non-treated quarrystone).
Accordingly, since XII century stone was quarried for treating (for wall masonry, decoration etc, we shall call it marketable stone), and for rubble (we shall call it quarrystone), and for lime.
Of course, we can only hypothetically reconstruct the technology of stone extraction in Ancient Russia. Today the methods of dating of the preserved ancient quarries with an accuracy to at least one century do not exist, and in our time quarries of Ancient Russia and of Russian Empire of XVIII-XIX centuries can be labeled by the term "old quarry".
But, having the general understanding that the methods of extraction of stone did not change seriously since XII till XVIII century, we can express some considerations for reconstruction of quarrying in Ancient Russia.
First of all, it should be noted that stone was quarried in open and closed methods.
Layers of qualitative (marketable) and non-qualitative stone interchanged, and the most convenient and effective way to develop them was horizontal. Marketable stone producing by the open method made necessary the huge additional work to remove the upper layers, what was difficult in the absence of mechanization. Accordingly, the remainings of stone development in the form of vertical pits are likely to belong to a later time (not before XIX century).
The volume of quarrystone for rubble and for lime in Ancient Russia was much bigger than of marketable stone. The reasons for this are as follows:
– in white stone churches about one-third of the thickness of walls is the filling by quarrystone and lime (see above), up to 80% of the foundations – quarrystone, spilled by lime;
– plinthite construction, which did not cease in XII-XV centuries, demanded a lot of lime (and in the foundations – not only lime, but also quarrystone);
– since the end of XV century mass brick building required a huge amount of lime, and in the foundations – also of quarrystone. Marketable white stone for the basements, architectural decoration and very few white stone churches was required many times less.
Quarrystone for rubble and lime was conducted by the open method – in careers. The proof of this is a lot of non-transported quarrystone which fills the old quarries: since there was no need to pull the fragments formed during the development of marketable stone to the surface, then quarrystone for rubble and lime was quarried elsewhere, and that could be only careers (it was probably disadvantageous economically to pull quarrystone out from underground).
Quarrying by the closed method o avoid buying large ground sites14 is characteristic for later times. In Ancient Russia, when the quarries were mostly (and before XVI century – exclusively) in state property, such "tricks" were useless.
It is now almost impossible to find antique careers: they had the appearance of deep grooves in the river banks and within a few decades after the cessation of development were fully overgrown and became inconspicuous ravines. And closed quarries of XII-XVI centuries might have well survived. Furthermore – each of known major ancient quarry systems (Syanovskaya15, Kamkinskaya16, Mescherinskaya17, Byakovskaya18, Cherepkovskaya-119, Seltsovskaya20, etc.) could theoretically include the development of the times of Ancient Russia. But, as we have said, methods of dating stone quarries with accuracy to at least a century today do not exist.
A huge volume of non-transported quarrystone in the old quarries allows us to reconstruct a number of important aspects of quarrying.
There is a stereotype that the development of stone in Ancient Russia
was held by tunnels (drifts)21 and non-transported quarrystone was
put along them. According to this position, the average width of the tunnel
(drift) with quarrystone – about
Consequently, the tunnels (drifts) in the quarries are very different from the tunnels (drifts), for example, in coal mines. In the latter tunnels are the result of primary production of layers, but in the old quarries that are most often the passages left in non-transported quarrystone24.
Quarrystone was also often laid on the floor (layer of quarrystone on
the floor of the tunnels is up to 2 m25), leaving the minimum
altitude for the transportation of marketable stone – about
Therefore, the volume of non-transported quarrystone in the old quarries – about 80-90% of the extracted stone. This is the reality: only 10-20% of stone turned out to be marketable.
It should be noted that even with such a rigorous selection, stone produced in ancient quarries was treated only roughly and had the form of shapeless lumps. "Half-clean" and "clean" treatment, for which special stone masons were required (of other qualification than stone miners), was done at the construction site. This is proved by the following provisions:
– it is unlikely that delicate and responsible work of stone treatment (making of straight angles and perfectly smooth surfaces) could be effectively carried out in the gloom and dampness;
– organization of stone treatment in the quarry could interfere the work of miners;
– there were no unified blocks of stone in Ancient Russia (their size varied
from 15x25x20 to 80x50x50 cm, often in the same building). Accordingly, the
adjustment of stone at the construction site was required. The same applies to well-treated details of
architectural decoration – they also were treated at the construction site,
sometimes already in the masonry of the building, as the ornament of
– treatment of just chipped off (respectively, melted) block is almost identical to treatment of stone brought to the construction site (respectively, relatively dry). The latter is as flexible and as good for treatment in all directions26;
– numerous finds of treated stone fragments in the quarries belong to later time (XVIII-XIX centuries), when a high degree of unification of building blocks and decorative items allowed to set up "operating reserves" to meet the needs of various potential buyers. Accordingly, quarries were used as warehouses;
– in Ancient Russia the remainings of stone, obtained by “half-clean” and "clean" treatment, were also in use – for the filling of walls and for lime, so the transportation of roughly treated blocks did not lead to wasted labor costs.
When processing stone at construction sites another 20-30% of the total volume was spent to stone fragments and lime. Thus, the efficiency of ancient stone miners in breaking down and processing of marketable white stone was about 10%. This confirms once again the enormous complexity of white stone development, as compared with much more simple and cheap brick (plinthite) production.
4. Production of white stone
Given all the above, the process of white stone quarrying in Ancient Russia is seen as follows.
Both open and closed development
took place on the high banks of the rivers – it was more convenient to explore the
stone, and to reach the product recovery, and to load stone and barrels of lime
in boats (in summer) or in sleds (in winter). Entrance could be situated at 10-
As we mentioned in Section 3, punching the entrance from above, from a smooth surface, was a huge additional work. Accordingly, we may assume that in Ancient Russia this method was not used.
Quarrying was going on in winter and in summer. Underground temperature is almost constant in every season (5-10 degrees Celsius). On the open-cast mining bonfires were lit in the cold season, and that solved two problems: heating of the workers and increasing of the brittleness of low-quality stone used mostly for lime.
Most likely, stone was usually fired for lime near the quarries. Chemical formula of limestone firing:
CaCO3 = CaO + CO2 with the absorption of heat.
So within the firing carbon dioxide released and lime remained. The resulting quicklime was put into barrels (to be protected from moisture) and transported to the construction site. However, it is possible that stone was carried for firing at the construction site, although the transportation of the stone for subsequent burn was irrational, since the fired stone loses weight.
Further at the construction sites lime was slaked in so-called “making wells” (the walls of these wells were usually covered with wooden boards to prevent the mixing of lime with ground). Chemical formula of lime slaking:
CaO + H2O = Ca(OH)2 with evolution of heat ("boiling").
If special high-quality lime was required (eg, for plastering frescoes), it was kept in “making wells” from several weeks to several months in order of full slaking.
Then lime was mixed with sand and other ingredients (straw, charcoal, crushed ceramics, fragments of plinthite etc.), and the mortar was put into the walls, foundations, etc., where slaked lime dried ("grappled"), extracting water and re-forming limestone.
Chemical formula of slaked lime drying:
Ca(OH)2 + CO2 = CaCO3 + H2O.
Sometimes fires were made near the walls in order to accelerate drying, and that were sources of not only of heat but also of carbon dioxide27. In the foundations, where there was no access for air, lime grappled very slowly (sometimes for decades), and this negatively affected the reliability of buildings.
Let us turn to the issues of production of marketable (high-quality) stone in Ancient Russia.
In search of qualitative stone layers the miners passed loose (talus) formations of stone under the cliffs by the open method – by ditches28 (excavated stone could be used for lime). When proper layer was found, the miners deepened into it by the closed method.
As we have seen in Section
In the halls the “columns” of
monolith stone with a span of 5-
Fig. 2. Drift in the quarry "Jubilee".
Fig. 3. Conditional plan of Kamkinskaya quarry.
The total length of the
known drifts in Byakovskaya quarry – about
The height of the faces
(Fig. 4) and, accordingly, of drifts depended on the power of layer and ranged
from 1.5 to 4 m32. Qualitative layers could be thinner – less than
Fig. 4. Abandoned face in quarry "Jubilee".
Additional strengthening of the ceiling was used sparingly and, apparently, only in collapse-dangerous places (for example, under the cracked ceiling). There was no widespread need for this: stone monolith is incomparably stronger than wood. As we have pointed out in Section 3, the role of further ceiling strengthening was often played also by non-transported quarrystone (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5. Quarrystone under the ceiling in the quarry "Jubilee".
It should be noted that ancient quarries had almost no dumps (as quarrystone usually was not imposed to the surface), and this makes them difficult to find. The same can be said about ancient careers: their dumps were formed only from the random debris and slag from the furnaces, which fired lime.
There are many legends about the tools that miners used, to the point that "Ancient Egyptian" method was applied – wooden wedges clogging into the gaps (or pre-made indents), which were then doused with water so they swelled and "cut off" blocks of stone.
Perhaps in Ancient Egypt, where the builders of the pyramids had no iron tools, and the climate is extremely dry, wooden wedges pouring with water could give good results. But in old Russian quarries, where humidity reaches 100%, the swelling of wedges by water pouring is very doubtful. Even if wedges were harvested and dried in advance, they still managed to be at least partially dry, before they were carried to the place of manufacture. And this method takes too much time.
Basing on the general considerations mentioned above, and the experiment conducted in Syanovskaya quarry with the participation of the author of this study in 200634, actual production of marketable stone in Ancient Russia can be reconstructed as follows.
Stone was mined mainly by the layers, as stone breaking on the edges of layers (ie, along the cracks) made the work much easier.
Starting to work with a monolithic wall, miners
firstly punched under the "ceiling" (ie under the layer they intended
to leave untouched) a wide cavity of about
Then, having determined the width of future blocks, a deep (more than for a half of the block depth36) was punched ("hollowed out") vertically for the full height of the wall (Fig. 6). As white stone is very viscous and elastic, rare heavy blows into the monolith were not applied, but there were multiple and gentle, mostly "chopping" and "cutting" blows (ie not at right angles to the wall).
Fig. 6. Unfinished old elaboration in Syanovskaya quarry. In the upper right corner of the image the upper cavity is visible, in the middle – vertical indents.
The depth of the indents was conditioned by the necessity of further break out of the block (if we liken the breaking of the block to the separation of the paper, then the indent will play the role of perforation). Consequently, too small indent did not allow the block breaking, too deep lead to excessive labor costs.
The upper cavity and indents were punched by blunt instrument – picks, hacks or crowbars, but chisels, beaten by hammers, also could be used.
Then blocks breaking out started. After punching the upper cavity and vertical indents, the future block was attached to the monolith by only two surfaces – back and bottom. If the bottom surface turned out to be on the bound of layers, it was necessary only to tear the back surface, as the bottom surface could be easily hanged out with the wedges. If not, then it was necessary to make indents also at the bottom surface of block, so it was held only by the back surface.
In the successful combination of circumstances along the back side of the block there could also be a vertical crack in the monolith, and then the block broke off itself. But as a rule, it was necessary to break the block by the back surface, and, as the experiment showed, it was a major problem of stone miners.
We must assume that for breaking the block by the back surface the wedges, and the crowbars, and the chisels were used. They were "slipped" from the top, punched in a number of places as deep as possible, and the block was broken off (Fig. 7). It may have been necessary to pre-loosen the block by wedges, chisels and crowbars also from sides. In these cases access to the block not only from above, but from the sides was required, and then the cavity, similar to the top, was to be punched at the sides of the block.
Fig. 7. The block, broken off in the course of the experiment in 2006.
As the blocks continued to be broken off (the second block from the top, third, etc., the following series of blocks by the vertical, etc.), the separation of the back surface of the block simplified greatly, since from the top and sides there was more space for slipping of crowbars and wedges, and even for punching of indents at the back surface.
If the height of high-quality layer (respectively, the height of the face) was significantly higher than human height, for easing of upper blocks breaking the elaboration was usually conducted by "steps" (miners split off the upper blocks, standing on the lower blocks left non-elaborated)37.
According to the "Normative Book" of 192938, the normative of working hours of white stone production was 0.82 human-days per cubic meter. The results of the experiment approximately39 confirmed the adequacy of this normative. However, it should be noted that final figures for the volume of labor for actual production of marketable white stone should be applied with a coefficient of 10 (as we have shown in Section 3, the efficiency of stone mining was about 10%).
5. Transportation and processing of white stone
Blocks of broken marketable stone the miners pulled out of the quarries, harnessing horses in small trucks or scrapers (in the old quarries a lot of traces of such trucks remained – Fig. 8, 9). Then the blocks were immersed into boats (in summer) or into sleds (in winter) and transported to the construction site.
Fig. 8. Traces of trucks or scrapers on the floor of the drift (quarry "Jubilee")
Fig. 9. Traces of trucks or scrapers at the turn of the roadway (Syanovskaya quarry)
Military boats and riding horses, belonging to a prince and used in wars, did not fit the transportation of stone. Accordingly, the organization of transportation of stone required to attract a large number of additional personnel, not less valuable than the miners or stonemasons, – the owners of horses, sleds and cargo boats. That could be either well-off peasants, or merchants.
The purchase of horses and boats specifically for the needs of the construction was also possible.
Forced "mobilization" of horses and vehicles could be used only in exceptional cases, as a prosperous peasant or a merchant are people, requiring respect and fair pay. In the opposite case a horse will become "sick" and will not go anywhere, and a boat will "accidentally run aground." And it is impossible to set supervisors at each kilometer of the route.
"Ordinary" peasants, attracted by a prince to serve the labor service, could only be used for auxiliary operations, requiring no qualification.
Accordingly, the transportation of stone from quarries
to construction sites was the most difficult and time-consuming part of the
building. In the pre-Mongolian time (with average distance of stone delivery
At the construction site blocks were unloaded, stockpiled, selected by size and subjected to "half-clean" and "clean" processing.
For blocks treatment “Tesovik” (a small hammer with pointed ends), “Teslo” (similar to a chisel) and “Skarpel” (like a scraper with a rounded end) were used. Some stone masons for “half-clean”, and even for “clean” stone treatment used a small axe instead of all the above instruments43. Blocks sawing began only in the XVIII century.
One of the ends of each wall block was usually left untreated (more precisely, processed "half-clean"). Blocks were placed by the untreated side inside the wall, and that provided good coupling with the wall filling.
At various times stone was treated in different ways.
The surface of pre-Mongolian blocks was covered with the characteristic grooves – traces of the tools that treated stone. Blocks were hewn and fitted very accurately, and they were laid into the lining with a very small amount of mortar.
In the end of XIII – the first third of XIV centuries
due to poor economic conditions of the Mongolian Yoke the “clean” treatment
became too expensive, and the blocks were laid into masonry treated "half-clean"
– with roughly treated surfaces, even without straight angles. In this
technique such churches were built as “Gorodishe” in Kolomna, St. Nicholas in
Kamenskoye (see Fig. 24), the first Assumption Cathedral in
In the end of XIV century Ancient Russian masons returned to the pre-Mongol technology of blocks treatment – almost perfectly accurate, with grooves of the tools. Later, these grooves became less and less visible and by the end of XV century disappeared completely.
Stone blocks of XVI-XVII centuries were handled very smoothly. Probably, they were subjected to additional grinding with sand (which was rubbed on the surface by wooden or iron "float"). Masonry became smoother (it is often called "dry"), blocks of almost equal size were used.
In conclusion, we emphasize again that white stone had enormous historical significance for Ancient Russia. It was not just a building material, it was an expression of state power and imperial ideology. And all immense difficulties of extraction and processing of white stone (in the masterpiece of Russian literature of the beginning of XIII century – “Supplication of Daniel the Exiled” there is a saying: “It is easier to treat a stone than to teach an evil wife”) were more than recouped by the exceptional value of white stone building for the state prestige of Ancient Russia.
© Sergey Zagraevsky