29-06-2023 Natural stone

The first findings of the Stone Trail expedition one year after it set out

On their bikes, stonecutters Orianne PIERAGNOLO and Louis DUTRIEUX draw up a panorama of stone cutting practices from France to China.

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Since July 10, 2022, an unusual expedition called La Route de la Pierre (Stone Trail) can be seen on the roads in Europe. On their bikes, stonecutters Orianne PIERAGNOLO and Louis DUTRIEUX have been visiting monuments, stone quarries and “Bauhütte (Site Huts)” to draw up a panorama of stone cutting practices from France to China. Their first stage took them to the banks of the Black Sea. They reported their findings in a videoconference on June 15, 2023.

© The Stone Trail team

Discover the Stone Trail expedition

The Bauhütte reveal their secrets in the shade of cathedrals

Their tour began with beginning visits to quarries and Bauhütte - workshops dedicated to the construction, maintenance and restoration of cathedrals. Few are still in activity these days, but the tradition survives in Germanic territories and some Scandinavian countries.

Unable to find work in August in Switzerland, the explorers headed for Germany and followed the Danube along the EuroVelo 6 bike trail. After visiting Europe’s highest spire in Ulm, the dynamic duo settled for a month and a half on the banks of Lake Constance in their first workshop, run by Martin Wiesenmayer, in particular to work on the restoration of the Cavazzen museum. Their ride continued to Regensburg and the Bauhütte of one of the first Gothic cathedrals in Germany and then on to Passau, before crossing the Austrian border in the first chills of autumn.

In mid-October, the Stone Trail riders found a home for their tool bags in Vienna where they worked for 10 days on the pinnacles of the cathedral and visited the archives where hundreds of stones are carefully housed and annotated.

From Hungary to Bulgaria, the architecture becomes more oriental

Still on the EuroVelo 6 bike trail, the riders move towards Budapest and a small workshop in Sóskút. Despite the language barrier, Orianne and Louis realize that stonecutting is a language in itself and work there for three weeks, cutting neo-gothic elements in local Sóskút stone quarried onsite beside the workshop. After a visit to an edge tool maker to get brand new tools, they leave Hungary with new tools but not before participating in the 23rd stonecutters congress in Budapest.

In search of Serb stonecutters

In Serbia, the cultural change which started in Hungary accelerates. Ottoman-style buildings dot the landscape, you can hear music on every street corner - but there are no stonecutters! Yet the Kemenoresaç (marble workers) are effectively present. The cathedral of Belgrade, with its concrete structure and stone facades prove that machines play a dominant role. Finally, the bikers stop in the small village of Rogljevo to repair stone elements in an estate acquired by a couple of vine growers.

In Bulgaria, lost know-how is replaced by machines 

The ride through Bulgaria is hallmarked by Oriental influences. They stop in Mezdra, where a factory formerly employing 300 people survives in immense warehouses with only 20 workers who cut limestone with machines. This was an opportunity to present the Stone Trail project to the forty pupils of the Bulgarian stone working school which had several hundred students in the Seventies.

One year on the Stone Trail involved: 

  • 2 bicycles each carrying 50 kg loads
  • Visits to 40 companies and 5 Bauhütte
  • 8 different workplaces
  • 7 explored stone quarries

To find out what happens next, read the monthly report

A videoconference which attracted both the simply curious as well as the “stone family”

The attraction of the Stone Trail lies not only in the scientific side of the project, but also in its ability to explain the stonecutting trade to a wider audience. There were a host of questions at the end of the videoconference and we list below some of the answers of particular interest to stoneworking professionals.

How much do European stonecutters earn?

The standard of living of stonecutters particularly interested the audience. If wages are higher in Bavaria and Austria, Hungary also provides decent incomes. Wages basically depend on funding sources. In the Bauhütte, as in Vienna, the patronage pays some of the stonecutters’ wages. In Bulgaria, Orianne and Louis noted the absence of significant budgets dedicated to the restoration of monuments.

What about stereotomy?

Concerning this art of cutting out and assembling structural elements (staircases, vaults, arches…), the Stone Trail notes that this know-how seems to be “declining”, although they met Serb architect Andelka who wrote her doctoral thesis on stereotomy.

What’s next?

The couple will return to France in the summer of 2023 before setting out again in spring 2024, starting from Georgia. Time to analyze the data, documents and samples collected, to prepare the next phase of the study and to attend several events to speak about their unique ride.

From December 5th to December 7, 2023, the Stone Trail duo will be at Rocalia to share their experiences and the first fruits of the data they have collected. Be there!

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