Using Thassos White Marble to Create a Grand European Mosque
An earlier version of this article appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Building Stone Magazine.
With its unprecedented size and beauty, the mosque in the city of Shali in the Chechen Republic of Russia has an awe-inspiring presence. It is considered to be one of the largest mosques in Europe, with a capacity for approximately 20,000 worshippers. The massive structure features Thassos White marble throughout its exterior and interior design, which exhibits shimmering effects and purity—further contributing to its stunning appearance.
“The mosque is reflecting the aesthetic of the Uzbek architecture and rhythm, which is very popular and has been used not only in mosques, but also in governmental buildings,” said the team at FHL Kiriakidis Group in Drama, Greece, the stone producer, fabricator, and installer for the project. “It has clear lines and elements which are perfectly suitable to be combined with a fresh approach and contemporary forms. The architect, who was chosen by the contractor, is an Uzbek himself, with a lot of experience in the field.”
FHL Kiriakidis is accustomed to working on projects of this magnitude, which is why they were chosen for this job. “For us, who were appointed to realize the design in white marble and to install everything, the project appeared big, but at the same time, we are already very experienced in structures of this size,” said the company. “We had the wonderful opportunity to have provided all of the white marble cladding for the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi (Shaik Zayed Bin Sultan Mosque), as well as many governmental buildings in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, such as the Conference Hall (Palace of International Forums), the National Parliament, and the National Library. So the delicate handling in production, shipping, and application of massive marble pieces was not new to us, which for sure was one of the criteria to choose our company for this job.”
A Striking Design
The architect was drawn to Thassos White marble for its color and popularity. “It has a unique sparkling whiteness,” said the FHL Kiriakidis team. “Under the sunlight, it seems almost that it is made of myriad diamond-like crystals. Thassos marble is still a very popular building material today, providing sheer luxury wherever it is placed. The color white is furthermore a highly symbolic color and synonymous with virtues like purity, new beginnings, and honesty.”
The company explains that marble is an “eternal building material, a fact that is proven through the history of mankind. Greece, especially, has one of the oldest cultures and plenty of heritage with monumental buildings made out of white marble, and particularly Thassos marble, so naturally we consider that sustainability of natural stone played a massive role during the decision process.”
The Shali mosque is designed in a traditional Uzbek rhythm design, with many spindles and columns. The pure white architecture is accented with vibrant pops of color and decorative elements. A palette of natural stones were incorporated into the inlay designs, including Blue Bahia, Baltic Brown, Mary Gold, and Tunas Green granite; Indian Green, Giallo Reale, and Rosso Alicante marble, and K21 onyx.
The team at FHL Kiriakidis explained that Uzbek architecture flourished during the Middle Ages as a result of being a central link in the 11,000-kilometer-long Silk Road. “Colorful mosaics, religious symbols, and abstract geometrical patterns characterize it. The colorful inlays we created from colored marble and granite emphasize very beautifully the all-over whiteness of the entire mosque—giving a playful counterpart to it.”
Producing the Marble
Thassos White marble is quarried on a small island in northern Greece. “FHL Kiriakidis owns quarries there and has a deep knowledge of this marble and so the procurement of suitable marble blocks was in our hand,” said the company. “The rarity of pure white Thassos marble blocks was of course a very difficult job to accomplish, but that was also one of the criteria for gaining this project. We had an appointed team dedicated only to inspect our quarries and ensuring with daily/weekly visits that the raw material was given and the machinery was procured with suitable marble to ensure the workflow.”
In total, FHL Kiriakidis processed approximately 36,000 tons of Thassos White marble, including many elaborate artifacts. “The marble pieces were very large and heavy,” they shared. “Every marble piece was produced in our factory in Drama, Greece. It had to be dry laid, inspected, packed properly in containers, transported by road to the port of Thessaloniki, Greece, and shipped via vessels and trucks to the final destination in Shali town in the Chechen Republic.”
Once the marble pieces were fabricated, a dry lay and codification had to be done, as well as a very detailed reporting of everything that was produced, approved/declined, and shipped for installation. “As the marble pieces were shipped by areas, a detailed plan of placing every single piece had to be elaborated by our installation company and our design team here in Greece,” they explained. “Many difficulties came up during the process of initial design, real elaboration and final installation on spot. Minor adaptions had to be made in respect to workability. All teams had to communicate closely and to meet for this.”
While the rareness of the marble and the complexity of the fabrication and installation made this a challenging project, the team at FHL Kiriakidis was “confident about our capability and our way of dealing with difficulties, which is always involved while working with natural stone—especially white marble. Nature gives only unique products and this is what we have to understand, respect, espouse, and love when we want to work with marble.”
An Orchestrated Installation
Precise organization, planning, and a lot of evaluation work in terms of the raw material and working time that would be needed were a necessity in the job. This all had to be done by the design team prior to the project’s start to ensure that the project stayed on budget and within the time frame. The install crew consisted of 250 workers. Fabrication of all the marble pieces, as well as onsite installation, took three years to complete.
The marble cladding, which had a thickness of 3cm and upwards, was secured with a dry fixing method that included special profiles and anchors. The most difficult part was the cyclic parapets, which one can see in the minarets and the dome. They were very delicate in production, transport, and installation.
“Our group’s subcontractor took over the entire installation job, as we have worked on a lot of projects together,” said FHL Kiriakidis. “We had to work in complete unison together, with a lot of onsite visits from our Greek design team.”
Work on the Shali mosque began in 2016 and the project was completed in July 2019. “We got a lot of positive feedback and feel extremely honored to have won a 2019 Pinnacle Award of Excellence in the category Architectural Carving/Lettering/Sculpture [from the Natural Stone Institute] for this beautiful project,” said FHL Kiriakidis. “It was successful due to many factors that played their role during all phases of the project—from acquisition to installation. Surely, the massive experience from our side and our installation company’s side, to projects of this size and the way they had to be handled in every stage, the capacity in raw material in procurement and state-of-the-art machinery for the fabrication, as well as the specialized workforce here in Greece and onsite, were a trigger to its success.”