The first culture to make extensive use of malachite was that of Egypt, a country whose history with malachite goes back at least as far as 4,000 BC when it was heavily mined in the Sinai -- near what is now the Suez Canal -- and in the famous King Solomon's copper mines on the Red Sea.
hathor;temple wall, memphis, egypt
A copper carbonate, malachite was prized because it was the easiest copper mineral to reduce to copper metal. The scale of copper mining in the Sinai reached a size that made it the first real industry of the ancient world.
The Sinai area and its mines were considered under the spiritual dominion of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of beauty, joy, love and women, who was also known as the "Lady of Greenstone," and "Lady of Malachite."
Reputed to have strong therapeutic properties, Egyptians believed that wearing malachite in bands around the head and arms protected the wearer from the frequent cholera epidemics that ravaged Egypt -- since slaves who mined malachite (a form of copper carbonate) were often unaffected by the plagues.
The Egyptians used malachite primarily for amulets, jewelry and cosmetics: powdered malachite was made into kohl, an Egyptian eye shadow.
Typically, two kinds of kohl were used: mesdemet, a dark gray ore derived from either stibnite (antimony sulphide), lapis lazuli (lazurite), or more typically, galena (lead sulphide); and udju made from malachite.
For Egyptian women, enhancing one's beauty for aesthetic and seductive purposes was a goal, but intertwined with that goal was a complicated mixture of spiritual, magical and therapeutic intent. While eye makeup conferred beauty and style on the wearer, it also had other more practical uses.
For instance, we now know that galena, a base material in some kohls, possesses disinfectant and fly-deterrent properties and is believed to have protected eyes from the intense Egyptian sun.
The application of kohl was believed to provide psychic protection as well. The Egyptian word for eye-palette
is derived from their word for "protect."
An unadorned, and therefore unprotected eye was believed vulnerable to the Evil Eye. Outlining the eyes thus gained significance beyond beautification -- the act itself created a personal protective amulet drawn directly on the skin; an amulet that once applied could not be broken, lost, or stolen.
Some archeologists believe that the wearing of malachite-based kohl may have placed women directly under Hathor's protection: applying powdered malachite was to partake in the essence of Hathor herself.
a women's mineral
Following in the Egyptians' footsteps, Greeks also made jewelry and talismans from malachite to ward off evil spells and thoughts.
The Greeks also used malachite architecturally: according to Pliny, built in 560 BC, the famous Temple of Diana (Artemis) in Ephesus -- one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (four times as large as Athen's Parthenon) -- was decorated with malachite.
Thought in many cultures to alleviate menstrual cramps and aid labor, malachite has also been called "the midwife's stone" since medieval times. In fact, author Michael Gienger, in Crystal Power, Crystal Healing
"Malachite was always a women's mineral and was always dedicated to a goddess in whatever culture: in Egypt to Hathor, in classical times to Aphrodite/Venus, in northern Europe to Freya.
Malachite represented seduction, sensuality, beauty, curiosity, aesthetics and the arts of the Muses.
It was considered to be the stone of Paradise, which later was represented as meaning we mortals aught to avoid it. [And] it still has the scent of Lucifer about it to this day."
malachite's 'eye of the peacock'
With its swirling concentric eye-like rings patterned after a "peacock eye," malachite was popular as protection against the "evil eye," fighting sorcery and black magic in the Middle Ages.
Considered an important charm stone for children, popular belief held that a piece of malachite would break if danger loomed, warning the child. Often times, a piece of malachite was attached to the side of an infant's cradle so that evil spirits would be kept at bay, allowing babies to sleep more soundly.
But it was Russia's Romanov dynasty who made malachite synonymous with grandiose opulence. Discovered in the foothills of the Urals near Ekaterinburg in 1635, by 1820, high quality malachite -- still considered relatively scarce -- had become very fashionable for jewelry, frequently mounted in gold and adorned with diamonds.
However, just a short time later the output of malachite had increased so much that it began to be thought of as an industrial and even a facing stone rather than just for jewelry.
The nineteenth century proved to be the golden age of Russian malachite. The sumptuous stone became a sign of prestige and a token of wealth -- so much so that Russian papers of the time wrote: "To afford having a big piece wrought in malachite is synonymous to owning diamonds."
Due to malachite's relatively close proximity, Russian tsars could easily obtain the malachite they needed to decorate their lavish palaces, paneling walls and commissioning beautiful inlaid works of art. Year after year the Russian (Romanov) treasury paid increasingly unreasonable prices to hoard the best malachite, much of which went into Romanov palaces and extravagant objects d'art (the Hermitage Museum possesses a collection of over two hundred examples of 'palatial' malachite).
one big boulder
In 1835, miners working the "Nadezhnaya" pit of the Mednorudyansky malachite deposit in the Urals exposed a malachite boulder of the highest quality that would eventually be found to weigh over 260 tons.
one end of the malachite room
It took nine years to free the gigantic pocket from the body of rock without breaking it, and almost twelve years to bring it to the surface.
Slabs from this find were used in the interior of the Anichkov Palace, as well as the Winter Palace where it was used to face eight columns and eight pilasters in the Malachite Room -- created by the architect brilliant "master of the interior" Alexander Bryullov in 1837 as a drawing room for Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna (Fredericka Louise Charlotte Wilhelmine, Princess of Prussia) (1798-1860), the wife of Emperor Nicholas I (1796-1855).
This same boulder also supplied enough malachite to face eight of the ten huge Corinthian columns that support the three-tier two-hundred foot gilded iconostasis (the icon wall that separates the altar from the rest of the church) of St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg. (The other two columns are faced with lapis.)
Malachite also adorns the Grand Kremlin Palace with its stunning, yellow-and-white Russo-Byzantine facade, built in the southern part of the Kremlin complex overlooking the Moscow River.
In the Private Chambers -- the imperial family's private apartments -- is the Catherine Hall with malachite-faced pilasters. Also among it's malachite furnishing is a fireplace created in the Russian mosaic style -- faced with small pieces of malachite matched so skillfully in color and pattern that the fireplace seems to be made from one huge stone.
the malachite casket
The Ural tale-writer P.P. Bazov (1879-1950) lyrically said of malachite: "It is like spring grass under the sun when it is swayed by the wind. The waves on the green color are moving."
scene from "tales of the malachite casket
A favorite with many Russians, P.P. Bazov's book The Malachite Casket: Tales from the Urals"
, is a fairytale collection of interlinking stories about fantastic occurrences among the stoneworkers of the Ural Mountains.
Bazov (1879-1950) learned the unwritten history of the Urals while working as a boy in the mines. In the story "The Stone Flower," a craftsman, Danilo, embarks on an artistic quest to find the secrets in carving the perfect stone flower.
His quest takes him through many lands to the Copper Mountain in which lives a woman known as the "Mistress of Copper Mountain" who is especially revered for her magic and great beauty. Also known as the "Malachite Lady," her underground kingdom is filled with jewels and shining flowers made of stone.
No doubt the opulence of the Romanovs did much to hasten malachite's depletion in the Urals. By 1870, malachite mining had been almost entirely stopped. Not many years later -- by 1918 -- as if in revenge for the Romanov's cavalier use of Russia's natural resources, the seemingly inexhaustible supply of malachite in the Urals dried up completely.