I parked the car when the dirt road began to feel particularly tricky underneath the wheels of my tiny rental car. It wasn’t visible yet, but I knew we were close because we had almost reached sea level. On foot, we took the last turn and there it was, crawling up into the mountain, in all its eerie glory – the old Sulphur Mine of Milos.
Milos is an amalgam of nature’s opposite forces. Volcanic eruptions may have shaken, resized and reshaped the island, but they were also responsible for its multi layered landscape, rich in minerals and geothermal activity; a topography that ranges from spectacular to purely cinematic. Yet, the most cinematic feature of all in my view, bears the distinctive signature of the Human Hand.
Sulphur was extracted sporadically by the ancient Greeks, who used it for religious purification or as a disinfectant. They also applied it on wool for its softening and bleaching properties.
Industrial-scale sulphur mining started on Milos in the last quarter of the 19th century. The mine operated intermittently until 1958, when technological advances made the recovery of sulphur from petroleum and natural gas possible, and significantly cheaper. Mining had now become unprofitable and production stopped completely.
When activities ceased, furniture and equipment was left behind. Some objects were removed but those that remain became integral components of a larger tableau, elements of which we have pieced together over the past few days. Remember when we peered through giant inverted binoculars or listened to the silence echoing voices of the past, through windows of decay? When we gazed over rusty surfaces, seeing without touching, afraid to break the spell? Or when we were absorbed by the desolate beauty of objects – once functional and useful – now laying scattered, abandoned?
We left when the sun was still high. I turned to take a last look. The place seemed tranquil, mysterious, eerie – the scent of sulphur lingering strong. I wondered why sulphur has been associated with demons. If we waited until sunset, would they come out to dance after dusk?
Old sulphur mines, Paliorema
23 June 2015