The history of the mines
Mining activity was considered great in ancient Greece. Silver from Lavrio’s mines backed Athens’ cultural development and shielded the city’s defense during the period of Persian wars. Similarly, the gold mines of Paggaio backed the development of the Macedonian dynasty with Philip II and funded the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Herodotus mentions the mines of Macedonian times and states that slaves worked for the extraction of sulphide ores during Philip II rule.
Mining activity continued until the roman period. Roman’s conquest of Spain’s rich in gold and silver mines resulted in the long time abandonment of Halkidiki’s mines. The latters exploitation began again during Byzantine times. The northern area of Isvoro named “Sidirokafsia” (commonly known as Sidirokapsa), Stratoniki at present day, was the region’s mining center at the time. The name Sidirokafsia is found for the first time in the 9th century.
Halkidiki’s mines saw a new period of prosperity during the Ottoman conquest in the early 15th century. The processing of zinc and lead took place in 500-600 furnaces that operated in the area. Miners required to pay 1 to 12 ounces of their production of silver to the Sultan as tax. During the 16th and 17th centuries the area went again through alternating periods of blossom and decline.
A peculiar system had developed in the area, by which 12 villages, the so called Mantemochoria, required to provide workers for the operation of the mine. The exploitation of the mine had already been granted to the region’s residents by the Sultan’s firman in 1705. At the same time a State Mint had also been operational in the region. The documents of Mantemochoria’s definition as a self-governing region are preserved in the Historical Archive of Macedonia. Traveler G. M. Liki mentions the 12 Eleftherochoria, as he calls them, which were governed by Madem Aga who also had management of the mine. Those were the villages of Anthemounta (Galatista at present day) Vavdos, Riana, Stanos, Varvara, Liarigova (Arnaia at present day) Novoselo (ie Neochori) Machala or Stagira (which was the capital), Isvoro (Stratoniki at present day), Chorouda, Revenikia (Megali Panagia at present day), Ierissos. The favorable self-governing system lasted until the villages’ participation in the liberation war of 1821 and was made possible by the region’s production of silver.
The settling of 10.000 soldiers for guarding the mines was the result of the villages’ participation in the revolution of 1821. Mantemochoria were forced to undertake the maintanance services of the military force. So in the second half of the 19th century the mines underwent a severe crisis which ended with the founding of the French-Ottoman company named Cassandra Mines. Since 1893, the company had been granted the exploitation of antimony, argentiferous lead and manganese mines. The region secured gold and silver to the Sublime Porte by mining and melting sulphide and manganese ores. The name Cassandra Mines first appears in 1893, when the exploitation of the region had been granted to a French-Ottoman company based in Paris. It is apparently named after Cassandra, the name of Halkidiki at the time. An international community of 6.000 workers operated the region’s approximately 600 furnaces in an early version of five-day work because Jewish workers had the Saturday as holiday and Christians the Sunday respectively.
The 19th century marked for Mantemochoria the change from self-government to dependent employment under the management of the corporate exploitation of the mines. The company’s furnaces had processed 72.000 tons of ore until 1900. The corporation exploited the secondary ores of manganese, the ferrous layers of Mavres Petres (Black Rocks), Piavitsa, Basdeki and Olympiada. The surface exploitation of pyrite began in Madem Lakko, in 1901, which was continued with an underground method mostly, until 1974.
EARLY 20TH CENTURY
In 1920, Stratoni mines passed into the penultimate modern operating period. The Greek Company of Chemical Products & Fertilizers Limited succeded the French-Ottoman company. The so called GCCP & Fertilizers LTD in short, was founded in 1909 in Athens by Nicholaos and Aggelos Kanellopoulos, Lyssimachos Charilaos, Alexander Zacharios, Leontas Oikonomidis and Leonidas Arapidis. It produced acids for industrial use, superphosphate fertilizers and soon expanded in glassmaking.
The company saw in time the need for a wide use of fertilizers for the country’s agricultural growth and was therefore lead to the purchase of the mines for extracting sulfur, which was the raw material for producing them. It purchased the Stratoni, Cyprus, Ermioni, Oropos and Koroni mines and founded a fertilizer production plant in Drapetsona. At that time, the necessary general service buildings and the workers’ housing facilities were located in the area of the mine at the highest point overlooking the gulf of Ierrisos and were bestowed by the French-Ottoman company. The placement depended on the fact that the mining activity was limited to the (now closed) gallery 323.
At present day’s Stratoni there was a loading ladder of ore that transported it via a Decauville type railway at a distance of 6 km. It was replaced by an aerial transport system in 1932. While mining activity increased, new exclusively operational facilities were created on the level of present day’s gallery 262. These were the electricity distribution and compressed air production unit, the workshop, the offices and the outposts. The steam-operated electricity production unit was located at the beach of Stratoni.
The evolution of Stratoni to a settlement begins with the Asia Minor disaster where refuges from the mining village of Balia-Madem near Ellispontos settle in makeshift shacks in Stratoni. Oral testimonies show that residents of Balia worked at the mines of Stratoni a long time before the Asia Minor disaster. After the earthquake of 1932 where many of the wider area’s settlements had been destroyed, the known type core-residences are rebuilt under the supervision of the Ministry of Reconstruction. Some of those buildings are preserved until present day.
After WWII the majority of GCCP & Fertilizers LTD’s stocks were acquired by Bodosakis Athanasiadis, who boosted the mining industry, especially Stratoni, with his activities. In 1970, GCCP & Fertilizers LTD built an enrichment plant at the beach of Stratoni and began producing mixed sulphide ore. At the same time, it built a complex of (110) two-storied residencies in line for the workers and independent, open from all sides houses for the scientific staff. In February 1967, the opening of a new loading ladder built in just 3 months time took place. In the end of the 70’s, the era’s famous housing complexes for workers were built at the entrance of the settlement, by the Workers' Housing Organization. In 1960, the company had already granted the exploitation of the Piavitsa’s magnese deposits to English Ioulianos Hunter. The production of magnese had been gradually degenerated and finally stopped in the middle of the 80’s. Remnants of Hunter’s Piavitsa mine (the enrichment plant and the stone pipeline, as well as the open excavations of magnese ore extraction), are located in the route between Stagira and Neochori at the place named after the owner.
The lead, zinc and gold-silver deposits of Olympiada were detected in the late 1960’s by the GCCP & Fertilizers LTD, the production at the mine began in 1972 and lasted untill 1995.
In 1976, a new enrichment plant was built in Olympiada, so those ores were ready for load in the Stratoni loading ladder. Cassandra’s mines at present day, after successively being taken over by the TVX Hellas Limited and Kinross Gold Corporation are properties of Greek Gold SA, a subsidiary of European Goldfields canadian mining company. In February of 2012, European Goldfields corporation was acquired by also canadian company, Eldorado Gold Corporation.