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Dimension stone as building material, utensils and carriers of messages are part of our culture: the oldest cultural artifacts are similarly from stone, just as the products of today’s artists or engineers.

Fountain made of Aare Granite
Fountain made of Aare Granite from a glacial erratic. State Archives of Lucerne (around 1737)
© Francis de Quervain


Stone and its meaning in culture: a broad topic – because culture is practically everything that mankind does. Stone is a raw material of nature with a very wide range of properties. It ranges from very hard to very soft, from massive to thinly foliated, with a sheer inexhaustible variety of structures and colors, from jet black to brilliant white. The type of rock is used in each case, depends on the technical and aesthetic requirements of the specific object. Economic factors also influence the choice. 

Stone: indispensable for architecture and art

Stone is used in a variety of ways: for building, as a bearer of messages, as jewelry or other uses. The usage in construction is quantitatively the most important. Despite modern materials such as concrete, asphalt, steel and glass, dimension stone has to this day remained a competitive product in building and civil engineering construction. Fountains, millstones and milestones are notable historically important applications of stone. Furthermore, stone plays an important role in sculpture, the manufacture of jewelry and other art and technical applications.

In their natural state, rocks tell the geologist their development over the millions of years. Each stone in the cultural object tells its geological history – and its “cultural history”! In the artisanal and artistically fashioned stone objects – be it a sculpture or a building – there is an overlap of geology, construction, economic and trade history.

Chur Cathedral
Chur Cathedral: ashlar masonry, piers and arches of sandy calcareous schist (Bündner schist from Scaläratobel, Scalärastein), vault ribs out of tufa from around Chur
© Konrad Zehnder

Millstone (Aare granite)
Millstone, dated 1644. Glacial erratic from the Reusserratikum (Aare granite). Base of Muschelkalk limestone (probably did not belong together).
© Francis de Quervain, 1968

Historic building conservation: an important interdisciplinary task

The conservation and study of the built cultural heritage is a societal challenge: especially at the present time, which primarily acts according to the criteria of economy and usefulness. Historic building conservation is a continuous, cross-disciplinary task not only of the national, cantonal and municipal authorities: building professionals, craftsmen, conservators, artists, historians and conservation scientists are working together with the responsible owners for the preservation of the cultural monuments.

Who is who

There is no official contact with respect to stone for cultural objects in Switzerland. The Georesources Switzerland Group is however involved in this field. National, cantonal and municipal authorities as well as many museums are dealing with cultural objects of stone. Academic institutions and private laboratories conduct research, conservators carry out any maintenance. 



  • Early references on stone as building material are found in Geologie der Schweiz by Bernhard Studer, 1851.
  • Die natürlichen Bausteine und Dachschiefer der Schweiz. (GS-05), P. Niggli, U. Grubenmann, A. Jeannet & R. Moser, 1915 (out of print)
  • Die nutzbaren Gesteine der Schweiz. Third, completely revised adition / Francis de Quervain, 1969.
  • Die mineralischen Rohstoffe der Schweiz.The standard work on the mineral resources of Switzerland in book form and on CD-ROM.
  • Steine schweizerischer Kunstdenkmäler: neu bearbeitete Sammlung von Abhandlungen aus den Jahren 1961-1978, Francis de Quervain. - Zürich: Manesse, 1979. (Publications of the Institute of Historic Building Research and Conservation, ETH Zürich; Volume 3)
  • The collections “Die natürlichen Bausteine und Dachschiefer der Schweiz“ and “Die nutzbaren Gesteine der Schweiz“ were created in connection with the appearance of the relevant standard works. They comprise approximately 500 or rather 300 hand specimens with rock thin sections. The collections are maintained by the Georesources Switzerland Group and can be viewed by prior appointment.

Geology in everyday life

ETH Zurich Department of Earth Sciences
Georesources Switzerland Group
NO F35
Sonneggstrasse 5
CH-8092 Zurich
+41 44 632 37 28


Historical building stones