Peter J. Marcucci

Special Contributor

Photos courtesy of Eurostone Marble, Inc.

This map shows the Drama, Kavala and Xanthi region that constitutes the area known as the “Golden Triangle.” Kavala White, Apollon White, Kyknos White, Balkan White, Dramas White and Volakas White all originate from this area.  When hearing of famous cities in Greece such as Athens, Olympia, Rhodes, and Troy, one thinks of history and great places to experience. Perhaps when viewing evocative photos such as the Parthenon and Acropolis, one’s imagination summons images of leaders, politicians and citizens, gathered in grand courts, discussing important issues of the day. 

The ancient Parthenon, a temple located in Athens, Greece, was constructed using Pentelicon marble. The original quarry is located approximately 18 miles (thirty Kilometers) from Athens. Pentelicon is still in demand but is hard to get. Pentelicon is also sold under the name “Dionysos.”Known officially as the Hellenic Republic, Greece’s mainland is located in southern Europe, situated at the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula. Bordered on the north by Bulgaria, Albania and the Republic of Macedonia, its southern coastline is the Mediterranean Sea, and its eastern coastline is the Aegean Sea. Its western region is mostly coastline along the Ionian Sea, with a small portion bordering Turkey. 

 A slab of pure white marble. “Clients will pick smaller slabs as long as they are pure white, but when slabs have yellow or black spots, that’s when it is difficult to sell.”  Inset: Tinos Green marble.  In the 1980s, Tinos Green, quarried on the Island of Tinos, was all the rage. It is still quarried, according to Nick Politis of Eurostone Marble, but its use has slowed considerably. The current quality, however, is still exceptional.With evidence of human presence dating back to 270,000 BC, ancient Greece is considered the cradle of western civilization and the birthplace of democracy. Ancient Greece was a society where the individual was important, and the common good of all its people was paramount. It is remembered for its mathematics, science, mythology, philosophy, Olympics and, of course, warriors. Indisputably well known for its role in history, Greece was one of the greatest influences of our modern world. 

A perfect example of big and pure Thassos. “Getting high quality tiles in any size are easy, but when it comes to getting big, clean slabs, that’s where the challenge comes in, although I do love it,” said Nick Politis, Eurostone Marble Inc.Modern day Greece, by contrast, is renowned for its vast supplies of fine white marble and is widely recognized as a major player in the production and export of natural stone, ranking high among the top producers in the world. 

A prime example of Volakas White, sometimes called Olympus White. It is produced by several quarries and factories within the Golden Triangle that use both names, although, Volakas White is the most common.Despite strict government restrictions imposed on quarrying in certain areas, Greece continues to maintain a significant share of exports in a global market, particularly with its white and light-colored marble. 

Thassos is the number one stone exported from Greece and is quarried from the northern Greek island of Thassos.  Although there are a dozen or so quarries, only about half of them are fully operational, and only half of those can produce significant quantities of premium white in larger slabs. Thassos that is pure white is very rare, and it is difficult to get large slabs that are of good quality. That’s also the reason that the price has gone up, said Nick. Characterized as excellent, marble is one of the most sound production sectors of the Greek economy with substantial reserves said to last for centuries. As artisans and artists, many of us work our hands and tools in these timeless colors every day, shaping and polishing stone such as Thassos, Tinos Green and Olympus White. 

In search of further clarity, this writer sourced the expertise of Nick Politis, owner of Eurostone Marble Inc., Houston, Texas, a supplier of premium natural stone since 1987. 

During that time, Eurostone Marble has held a unique position within our industry as one of the  largest importers of premium Greek marble and is credited with supplying quality materials to hospitality franchises such as Hilton Hotels and Hotel Valencia, and stores such as Forever 21 and Chanel. That list of credits also extends to The Galleria shopping mall in Houston, Texas, and more—lots more. 

The Timeless Whites

“When you talk about marble from Greece, you are talking about white and semi-white most of the time, and White Thassos is the number one stone exported from Greece,” explained Nick Politis. “It is quarried from a northern Greek island named Thassos, and like all Greek quarries, all have limitations. 

“Although there are a dozen or so quarries, only about half of them are fully operational, and only half of those can produce significant quantities of premium white in larger slabs. 

“Thassos that is pure white is very rare, and it is difficult to get large slabs that are good quality. That’s also the reason that the price has gone up. You can buy large slabs all day long, but they might have holes or gray areas, and that doesn’t do you any good. This is the difficult part of this business and the biggest challenge.”

Looking at a map, it is the Drama, Kavala and Xanthi areas of Greece that are the most productive, Nick explained, noting that these three areas combined are known as the “Golden Triangle” and where whites such as Kavala, Apollon, Kyknos, Balkan, Kavala and Dramas White, just to name a few, are quarried. 

“One of many exceptional looking marbles quarried in this triangle is Volakas White, also known as Olympus White. Its color and veining is very similar to White Carrara. It’s a very popular color and will continue to be. 

“The quarries in this area produce a lot of stone, and thank goodness for that. This area is also where a lot of factories have been set up to facilitate production. 

“Another popular color though difficult to produce is French Vanilla. This marble isn’t as popular as it was in the 1980s, because these quarries currently have many difficulties. They are not in the triangle; they are about sixty miles north of Athens in a centralized region known as Sterea Ellada. The main quarry from those days has gone out of business. 

“I knew the man that ran it. He got old and his sons got into it, and they never developed it the right way. There are a few secondary quarries that are currently producing French Vanilla, but not with very good success. If you are doing a small project, these quarries can deliver, but if you need fifty-thousand square feet in two months, you will have difficulty getting it.” 

Approximately thirty kilometers (about 18 miles) from Athens lies the ancient quarry that was used to construct the Parthenon, said Nick, explaining that Pentelicon is still in demand but hard to get. “The government has put restrictions on the quarrying of Pentelicon, however, people have found loopholes in the law, and with the right ‘connections’ you can still get it. Here and there they still extract small quantities, but not enough to do a big project. 

“Pentelicon is also sold under a different name, Dionysos. Still another great quarry is on the island of Naxos. Naxos White was used in the ancient world and is still quarried today, but like so many Greek quarries, it can be difficult to get what you want, when you want it.”                     

The Timeless Greens and In-Betweens

Yes, Greece is most famous for its whites and semi-whites, but there is more to Greek marble than just white. A popular color is the hard, yet seductive, serpentine known as Tinos Green. This serpentine comes from the island of Tinos in the southern part of Greece. 

Years ago it was very popular and came in two different varieties. One had a lot of white veins and the other just a few. “I don’t know if you remember, but in the 1980s, everybody wanted Tinos Green. That fashion died out, and we don’t sell as much as we used to. It is still quarried and we are still carrying it, but the use of Tinos green has slowed considerably due only to demand, not the quarry. The current quality is still exceptional.” 

Yet another striking and exceptional color is Pillion Pink (known as Alexandria in the 1980s).

“Pillion Pink comes in five varieties and continues to be quarried in a central area of Greece known as Volos. I do carry it, but it is not popular due to color problems at the quarry. 

“As you can see by now, many Greek marbles of color have problems with either the structure, the productivity, or the color. That makes it difficult for the producer because they cannot just throw away what people don’t want to use. The same is true with other colors, such as Dessert Pink from the Sterea Ellada region. Dessert Pink used to be very popular, but eventually that quarry ran into problems as well.”

Two other colors that also used to be popular for export is a marble named Karneceka Gray, quarried from the Peloponnese region, and Kavala Gray, which is quarried in the triangle, said Nick, noting that these Grays continue to be very popular in Greece but do not sell well in America because of the grayish color. These materials are very strong, easy to polish, and the availability is huge. 

The Quarries

A total of more than 70 percent of marble quarried in Greece comes from the northern area, with a sizable amount coming from Greece’s mid-area as well as Athens, and like all Greek quarries, they are of the open type, operated by mostly small to medium size companies. 

“Competing for materials from Greece, especially Thassos, is challenging. There is not enough for everybody, and it is a close group of people that specialize in it. Unless you know these people and they trust you, you will have a hard time doing business repeatedly. You need to know them! 

“Sometimes egos get in the way, and they will say, ‘I don’t like that guy,’ and someone answers, ‘But they have the money,’ and the other says, ‘I don’t care. I don’t want to sell to them. NEXT!’

“Some of them feel like they have a monopoly. I know them and they know me, but it is hard to deal with them especially with the economics that Greece is facing right now. You say good morning to them, and they say, ‘Where’s the check?’ They want to get paid up front, and I’ve known these people for many years! 

“And even when you do pay good money, you may not get what you anticipated you were getting. I do have good connections in Greece, and I rarely have any problems, but you do have to keep an eye on things. I do have people that go to the quarries and specify materials for me when I cannot be there myself. 

“Of course that’s what my people do there, and sometimes they’ll tell me, ‘Forget about that quarry for a while!’ 

‘Why?’ I say, ‘They are nice people! We’ve done business for a long time!’ 

‘Yes, but they have problems! And they are not producing good material right now! You want to buy from them right now, go ahead and buy, but you are going to have problems!’ 

“So you need to know the faces, who your suppliers are and what you are buying. You also need to be there when they load the material. Quarries that are producing good material today may not be the ones that are producing good material tomorrow. They might run into a difficult face of the mountain so that all they can produce is material with yellow or black spots. 

“Now that quarry or manufacturer is no good to me, even though I have a good relationship with them. So, what I do is try to maintain my relationships and find out which quarries are producing the right material at the right ratio and buy from them. Then after they’ve exhausted their supply of quality material, or if the factory has a problem, I go to another supplier. 

“We know all of them, and we are all friends, but we only buy from them as long as the material is good. I think this is just the nature of the business, and no importer is unfamiliar with that fact.” 

Athens, Greece is a production hub where you find the bigger facilities, and it operates much like the way Carrara, Italy operates, just on a smaller scale. 

After processing the stone, there are two main ports that materials are shipped from: Port of Piraeus, the biggest port, located just southwest of Athens, and Port of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece. These ports are used for shipping to countries such as America, Australia and Saudi Arabia. 

For marble destined within Europe it is more economical to transport it by truck, especially when materials are quarried in northern Greece, which is most of the time, said Nick. There are only two or three borders it must go through, and it can be delivered in one half to two days driving time to most of Europe. China also buys a lot of blocks from Greece but, according to Nick,  it is the U.S. that buys the bulk of quality material from Greece.  

Drilling into the numbers, consider for a moment that the U.S. Dept of Commerce reported that marble imports to the United States from Greece totaled 3,365 tons in 2012. 

In contrast, the tonnage figures for 2013, minus the month of December (not available at the time of this writing) show that marble imports to the United States, just one year later, increased to 5,232 tons. By comparison, that’s a 1,867 ton increase and accounts for a one-third increase over the previous year, yielding a total of 68,000 cubic feet.                      

The Future of the Timeless Colors? It’s All Greek to Me!

Fact: Greece is considered a country with the widest variety of white and light-colored marbles anywhere. That’s one big reason why the white hot trends of the past will continue to be fueled by very cool Greek stones well into the future. Fact: The supply of Greek marble is considered inexhaustible and is another big reason for its continued success in the world market. 

“I’ve been doing this for twenty-seven years. Whites from Greece continue to be very popular, and never really go out of fashion. There is always some part of a house that uses white stone, and these marbles will continue to be in demand. Greece has been quarrying marble for thousands of years, and I don’t think they are going to run out in our generation. That said, every year it does becomes more and more difficult to quarry enough material to supply the growing demand.” 

Peter J. Marcucci has over 25 years of fabrication experience in the stone industry. Send your comments to our Contacts page.