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Thiorychia (Thiafes) – Paliorema

Sulfur Mine

It is hardly easy for someone to visit “Paliorema” which means an unfriendly river as it is surrounded by wild mountains and steep rocks.

Still it is very much worth a visit, not only for its scenery and the sulfur mine plant remaining there, but also in order to understand and appreciate the living and working conditions of the miners, who today could only be considered as “heroes”.

From the middle of 19th century until the middle of the 20th century, when a drive way was built, the miners used to stay in Paliorema for the whole of the week. Then, every Saturday they had to walk for hours to get to their homes and walk back again on Sunday or Monday morning.

Thiorychia (Thiafes) – Paliorema, Milos

Thiorychia (Thiafes) – Paliorema, Milos

During the first years they used to live in caves and huts, up until 1937, when some rooms were built but they were still not enough to accommodate everyone.

Because of the hard living and working conditions and the low pays, strikes and riots burst out quite often. It was not until 1952 that there was organized health treatment and only in 1960 the workers were granted a pension taking into account all of their working years.

There used to be a primitive grocery shop from where they could acquire cheap food using a local currency in coins of ten units. Samples of these coins are now displayed in the Mining Museum of Adamas.

The miners had to do a very unhealthy job, they were normally working in the galleries where it was extremely hot; dust was everywhere and ventilation was basically inexistent. Lung infections, tuberculosis, blindness and work accidents are some of the incidents reported.

Thiorychia (Thiafes) – Paliorema, Milos

Information for the use of sulfur can be found in texts written by Homer, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Plineus etc. Sulfur was used for cleaning and disinfection, for the fuming of vineyards, for medical treatment, as well as for military purposes (liquid ammunition of the Byzantium) and to make “sulfur-candles” that were used instead of matches.

The oldest record of sulfur exploitation on the island comes from the 5th century B.C., during the domination of the Athenians. Moulds have been found with the word ATHENIANS’ written on them. Plineus says that the Romans considered the Melian sulfur of excellent quality and they used it mainly in medicine.

Mining continued even during the Turkish domination, despite the fact that due to the high taxes the Turks claimed, the locals avoided the use of the island's wealth-producing resources.

Sulfur was produced in many places, but its systematic exploitation started in 1862 in Paliorema located on the south-eastern part of the island.

Initially the work was done by individuals, but in 1928 a company was formed under the name “Sulfur Mines of Milos” (Thiorychia of Milos). During World War II the Germans ordered for the continuation of operations and they were supplying the necessary fuel and explosives themselves.

Once the war was over, refurbishments took place and it was then that a pioneering method of enrichment was used which lead production to reach 99.5% of pure sulfur (Method of Svoronos).

At the end of 19th century large quantities were exported to France, where sulfur was used for the fumigation of vineyards, a process still common in Greece.

On average, there were 200-300 workers employed and the average annual production is stated as 2000 tons. The mine of Paliorema exported 125,000 tons of sulfur in total. The Agricultural Bank of Greece was setting the price quota and was distributing the produce to agricultural cooperatives.

Thiorychia (Thiafes) – Paliorema, Milos Thiorychia (Thiafes) – Paliorema, Milos

In the area around the mine there were facilities such as an electricity generator, offices, a designing room, a chemistry lab, crushers and grinding mills, as well as a carpentry, a bakery, a grocery, living quarters and warehouses.

The product was extracted from deep galleries, under the mountain, and it was carried on trolleys up to the top of the mountain (the rails are still there to be seen). From the top the product would fall fast on the crushers, it was pulverized and it was then passed through pressurized vapor in order for it to be fluidized. After that, it was put in moulds and was helped to cool down using sea water thus becoming a solid that could be packaged to be transported.

In 1958, the USA exported large quantities of sulfur in global markets at low prices. The production of huge amounts of sulfur as a residual of oil processing began soon after that.

Thus, the production at Paliorema was initially reduced and eventually the mine was forced to stop operating. The area was abandoned and the locals gradually removed most of the movable objects.

Still remaining there are the buildings, the remnants of large, heavy machinery, galleries, cave-houses, bridges, warehouses and pieces of the crane next to the sea where there was a loading pier.

The area of the mine was sold to an individual in 2001.

Paliorema is today considered a remarkable industrial monument and there have lately been discussions for its maintenance, its preservation and the transformation of the place into a Museum of Industrial heritage.

Thiorychia (Thiafes) – Paliorema, Milos

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