Porphyry Stone – History

The use and the knowledge of the Porphyry Stone dates back many centuries.

Important relics and monuments in porphyry have been discovered at Assyrian,  Babylonian, Egyptian and Roman sites. The cradles of our civilization… more than 3.000 years ago…

Its name comes from the Latin word “porphyra”, which means purple red color, which in history has always been a symbol of prominence and royal circumstance.

In ancient Egypt the pharaohs started to use a stone which distinguished itself from others not only for its’ exceptional red color, but also for its’ hardness and resistance. It was significantly higher than granite, which practically made it eternal. Porphyry, the name of that stone, was used for statues, artifacts, and sarcophagus.

In the Roman age, porphyry stone was believed to give good luck, and the word “porfirogenito” meaning “born in a room cladded with porphyry”, was created. That room existed only in the royal palaces, and all the sons and daughters of the emperors, were born in there. This was to wish them a bright future.

The famous “Rota Romana”, what we would call the “Roman Wheel”, was made in red porphyry, hence called also “Rota Porphyretica“. The Emperor, before entering the palace, would stop and pray on one of the “Wheels”. The same “Wheel” would welcome him again for the last time, when in death, relatives would come to pay their last tribute. The meeting of the Emperor with the Ambassadors of the King of the Persians was influenced by the Wheels, which decorated the floor of the throne room and on which the Ambassador had to repeatedly prostrate himself. The last Wheel was situated before the steps, also made of Porphyry, which led to the throne.

In the old Basilica of Saint Peter, on Christmas day 800 a.d.  Charlemagne was coronated Emperor on a Porphyry Wheel. This wheel is still in place and visible in the new Basilica.

The same good luck that was hoped for at birth was also wished for the Emperors at their death when they were buried in Porphyry Sarcophagi.

Later in history, porphyry was mentioned in the “Divina Commedia”, the most famous Italian book written by Dante Alighieri, in the early XIV century, as the front part of the steps which led up to the Mount of Purgatory.

During the Renaissance the hardness of Porphyry put the sculptor’s tools to the test: Michelangelo Buonarrotti, after some attempts, refused to carve such a hard stone.

The French Monarchy, considered Porphyry their selected stone, as well. Many statues at the royal palaces, Versailles, just to name one,  were made with red Porphyry.

The Sarcophagus of Napoleon, under the dome of Les Invalids, is also made from a single big block of red Porphyry.

In the IXX century, the development of Porphyry quarries in the Northern Italian Region of Trentino-Alto Adige, led to a broader use. It was first used as a building stone (ashlars and roofing material), and shortly after as a paving stone (cobblestones, flagstones). Mostly for local use: the quarrying was done by hand, and the products were then loaded onto carts pulled by mules or by hand. Material for distant jobsites, like Rome, Milan, etc. was transported by the railway.

In the 1930, the steady demand for the products led to some technological progress, like the use of iron carts on rails, the use of trucks and the quarrying with explosives.

But it wasn’t until after WWII that the quarrying and working of Porphyry in Trentino really took off.  The increase in the number of companies, the increase in production,and a progressive improvement in the equipment and techniques of quarrying contributed to this.

It’s from these years that the history of Porphyry starts to blend with the history of the Odorizzi family.