What is Marble?
Classical Greek history is not short on examples of truly exquisite works of art which have been painstakingly carved from glistening white marble as long ago as c438 BC. The Elgin Marbles, for one, is a stunning creation sculptured by the citizens of Athens under the watchful eye of Phidias, the celebrated architect and sculptor of his time. Such work is complex. Fine details are achieved from the relative softness of marble, which is attributed to its fine grains. The perceived realism of artefacts, particularly in figurative works such as the statue of David by Michelangelo, owes much to the translucence of marble.
Marble is created when limestone or dolomite is subjected to intense heat and pressure. A metamorphic rock, the process recrystallises the original rock into an interlocking mosaic of calcite, and almost always contains other minerals such as graphite, iron oxides, clay, and quartz. These impurities, along with calcites which fill fissures in shattered rock, leave the characteristic veins of colour often found in marble. They can be pink, yellow, black or bluish grey. The temperature and pressure necessary to form marble usually destroys any fossils and sedimentary textures present in the original rock.
For a modern day artistic use of marble, and with a capacity to accommodate over 40,000 worshippers, look no further than the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, one relatively small side-corridor of which is shown above. Many tonnes of almost flawless Italian white marble went into its construction, which has a footprint of over 30 acres. The natural beauty of marble was chosen for its long-lasting qualities, and it is said that each consignment was personally overseen by the Sheikh, himself, rejecting all but the finest stones. Highly decorated with semi-precious stones and mother of pearl, it has gleaming marble floors, reflective pools, seemingly endless ranks of columns, and a courtyard considered to be the largest example of marble mosaic in the world. The mosque sits under eighty-two unpolished domes, each of which appear to have been dusted with sugar. Since marble is able to reflect light from the surfaces of deeper, underlying crystals, it creates a lustre that glistens and sparkles under the sun during the day. And when bathed in soft muted coloured lighting come dusk, the effect is utterly breathtaking.
For more modest applications, marble is used in both domestic and commercial settings where hard, decorative surfaces are desired. Typically fashioned to clad walls and floors in bathrooms, it is also used in kitchens for counter tops, dining tables, accessories, and tableware such as cheese boards, for example. Popular as a fire-surround, hearth and mantle, the evident sophistication of marble offers a real touch of luxury rarely associated with other types of natural stone. In large civil engineering projects, crushed marble is used as an aggregate for road construction and building foundations. As it is composed of calcium carbonate, the purer, whiter marble is crushed and used extensively in the chemical industry as an acid neutraliser.