In St. Petersburg, Russia, in the corner of a building known as the Winter Palace, is a remarkable room. Tall columns of banded green stone flank the walls, while a grandiose fireplace carved from the same material commands attention in the heart of the room. This is the Malachite Room, a once royal reception room adorned with a gemstone that has been beloved since antiquity. What is most impressive about the Malachite Room is that the features of the room, which also include furniture and large urns, were carved from huge slabs of malachite, rather than smaller specimens laid out in mosaics, as was commonly done. With such large stones for the eye to behold, the beautiful features of malachite are evident, making it easy to understand why this gemstone has been favored for centuries.
The Malachite Room in the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia; (image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Malachite is highly distinctive, with its variegated banding and rich emerald green color. That color comes from the copper deposits where malachite is often found. In fact, malachite itself is used as a source of copper via the process of smelting. Often malachite is found with azurite, a brilliant blue gemstone that also forms in copper rich areas. Concentrically banded malachite, known as “peacock’s eye”, is especially sought after, as it is rarer than linearly banded gemstones. Malachite is rather soft, with a Mohs hardness of 3.5 to 4. Malachite is found all over the world, including the U.S. (Arizona), Brazil, Australia, Mexico, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The name malachite is believed to come from the Greek word “molochitus”, referring to the mallow leaf which is similar in color. Malachite has been used by humans since antiquity, and was believed to protect one from evil. In Ancient Egypt, the color green was highly symbolic, representing new life and fertility. Ancient Egyptians referred to the eternal paradise they believed awaited them in the afterlife as the “Field of Malachite”. They would rarely used malachite as a gemstone in jewelry, but would grind it up and make paint pigments and eyeshadow.
The malachite funerary mask of the "Red Queen", displayed in a museum exhibition in Mexico City; (image source: Wikimedia Commons)
In Ancient Greece and Rome, malachite was carved into amulets, jewelry, and statuary. Ancient Romans referred to malachite as the "peacock stone", associated with the queen of the gods, Juno. Malachite held prominence in Mayan culture, as well. A mosaic of malachite forms the funerary mask of the Red Queen of Palenque, so named because of the red cinnabar pigment that covered her body and the inside of her sarcophagus.
As evident in the Winter Palace above, malachite was an important stone in Russian architecture and culture in the 1800's and beyond. In St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, towering columns of malachite and lapis lazuli adorn the building's ornate interior. A popular folk tale from the Ural region (where malachite and many other gemstones were once mined) called "The Malachite Casket" tells the story of a beautiful and mysterious young girl who gains possession of a jewelry box carved from malachite. The cultural traces of malachite today are a clue to the once powerful and prominent Russian monarchy of yore.
In modern metaphysical practices, malachite symbolizes transformation, abundance, and spiritual wisdom. Some people believe that wearing malachite jewelry can alleviate depression and help aid in the restoration of balance and positivity. Whatever your beliefs are, malachite is undoubtably a beautiful stone to add to your collection.