Tracing the history of northern Greece’s watermill technology

Millers and sawyers of yore left their mark at a time when water-powered workshops were functioning all over the Greek countryside. In preindustrial society, watermills, water-powered saws, fulling devices and beetling mills, which preceded all of today’s technology, were implemented to cover people’s needs for food, housing and clothes. These water-powered machines replaced the pre-existing handmills, handsaws and beaters. The exhibition «Mills of Macedonia and Thrace: Watermills, Water-powered Saws, Fulling Devices and Beetling Mills in Traditional Society,» with which the Folk Art and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia and Thrace reopened on May 11, is about the technology and running of water-powered workshops during the 19th and early 20th centuries in northern Greece. The museum, which is housed in an early 20th century building constructed by Eli Modiano, had remained closed for eight years due to lack of money, but also because it needed to be refurbished. Works for its restoration were finally completed in 1999 and financial problems also ceased, since the museum has now come under the Ministry of Culture. The new board, headed by Giorgios Maradelos, was able to move into new research which signals another era for the museum, since it now has a double budget at its disposal. The exhibition halls, about 1,200 square meters in size, will gradually host the museum’s 25,000 exhibits, while three more thematic display units will be further expanded. These units, directly related to watermills, water-powered saws, fulling devices and beetling mills, cover nutrition, housing and clothing. For this first exhibition, copies of water-powered machines were created so that the public can learn about the process that basic products like wheat, wood and woollen fabric go through. The watermill was the main tool for milling wheat in northern Greece at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The museum’s watermills actually produce flour which visitors can take away with them, while fulling devices and beetling mills demonstrate the process that created woollen fabrics and textiles. Beetling mills and fulling devices first appeared in Greece in the 19th century. Fulling devices served in tightening the threads of thick blankets and rugs, while the beetling mill’s beaters beat the textile consistently to close off all gaps in the texture and make the fabric firm. The museum’s research, which extends from 1700 to 2003, located 2,081 watermills, mainly in Naoussa, Edessa and Rhodope, out of which 31 are still in operation, and 138 water-powered saws, only three of which are now in use. Out of the 140 beetling mills and 165 fulling devices that were found, very few are still in operation – nowadays used for ecological carpet washing.

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