Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is full of the most fascinating discoveries.As you walk by some of the jewelry shops and glance at the display in the windows, you may notice a deep blue item like a ring or necklace or earrings. Blue has occupied a special place in the minds of humans, perhaps because it is rarely found in a natural state. That’s what makes the gemstone known as Lapis Lazuli so precious and eye catching. Lapis Lazuli (Persian word for blue) is a stone made up of calcite and a number of other minerals. It may have white specks in it or pyrite spots that glitter like gold. It usually occurs in crystalline limestone millions of years old when limestone was turning into marble.
Blue Lapis is one of the traditional Turkish tribal belly dance pendants. One of the earliest and most decorative uses is found in ancient Egyptian jewelry. The death mask and other jeweled items found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun have pieces of Lapis Lazuli in them that stand out among the gold. We know from other archaeological finds that lapis was quite common. But it may be that its very scarceness and the need to transport it from Afghanistan may have made it even more valuable than a gemstone normally would have been.
Lapis lazuli’s color is often referred to as royal blue and is associated with royalty. Frequently it is seen in rings, necklaces of beads or in pendants. Or as background in such wooden items as the famous Royal Standard of Ur that has been dated to 2600 B.C. Under the Assyrians and Babylonians, the stone was used for seals, while the Egyptians created amulets and scarabs out of it.
Lapis lazuli has not only been considered royal, it was thought to have also had occult powers. We see it used in religious ceremonies such as any conducted from the Egyptian Book of the Dead and as a holy stone with magical powers. The stone was part of the pantheon of minerals that was thought to cure fevers and get rid of depression and melancholy. Milk was mixed with the Lapis Lazuli for medicinal purposes. It is intriguing to think that it was one of the earliest kinds of makeup and even Cleopatra is known to have used powdered Lapis Lazuli for eye shadow. The Romans believed it to be a powerful aphrodisiac. Painting is another area in which this stone proved useful. It was ground up and mixed with oil to produce ultramarine, a deep blue-green pigment found in oil paintings of the old masters for example. As a color, it still retains its brightness today.
Last but perhaps most importantly Lapis Lazuli was seen as the stone of truth and friendship that would help a friend speak his or her opinion openly. It also purportedly helped one to be more aware, insightful and improved one’s intellect.
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