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Carrara: City of marble

From the April 2016 issue.
Carrara: City of marble

Carrara’s celebrated white marble was favoured by Michelangelo, and the roads that wind around its quarries set the scene for a dramatic car chase in the 2008 James Bond blockbuster, Quantum of Solace.

By Danielle Gullaci

Found in Tuscany’s province of Massa-Carrara, the city of Carrara is famous throughout the world for its exquisite white marble. Its main quarries are located within the villages of Ravaccione, Fantiscritti and Colonnata, in the Apuan Alps.

Carrara’s white marble has been extracted from its quarries for more than 2000 years. Back then, extracting and moving the blocks was a much more physical and laborious task than what it is nowadays, and thus much of the workforce is believed to have been made up largely by convicts and slaves.

As would be expected, the method of extracting marble from Carrara’s mountains has developed significantly over time. Pre electricity and modern machinery, the Romans were able to extract marble by inserting wedges of wood into the stone’s natural cracks. By adding water, the wood expanded, causing the marble to split. Wood was eventually replaced with metal wedges and hammers, and these labour intensive methods were later replaced with explosives, though the use of explosives resulted in a great deal of good marble going to waste. By the early 1900s, various forms of machinery began to be introduced into the mix.

Today, Carrara’s marble quarries adopt the use of the latest technology to extract and cut the blocks of marble with absolute precision.

There are hundreds of marble quarries in Carrara, with up to one million tons of the precious stone mined each year.

There are various types of marble quarried in Carrara. The most well known is the classic White Marble, which can contain slight traces of impurities; Statuary Marble is the most precious variety, featuring white or ivory tones and a crystalline composition, and favoured by artists during the Renaissance; Veined Marble is the type that is most commonly found in the area; Arabescato Orobico Marble is similar to the veined variety but with the presence of arabesques; Calacatta Marble is a rarer kind that is very valuable, with veins that often feature shades of yellow; Bardiglio Marble is grey in colour with white veins; and Cipollino Zerbino Marble has green grey patterns that resemble an onion (cipolla is Italian for onion).

Carrara marble is a completely natural stone. It is so revered that it has been used throughout the centuries to create many well known monuments – in Italy and around the world.

The Ancient Romans used Carrara marble in the building of the Pantheon and to construct the 30 metre tall Trajan’s Column.

During the Renaissance, it was used by many sculptors, the most famous of which was Michelangelo. He is said to have favoured the white marble of Carrara, and even visited the city’s quarries himself to select the perfect blocks for many of his sculptures.

Among Italy’s most celebrated Carrara marble masterpieces are two of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures – the Statue of David and the Pietà, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ after his crucifixion and subsequent death.

Outside of Italy, Carrara marble was used in the construction of London’s Marble Arch, the Oslo Opera House in Norway, and to carve the Peace Monument in Washington.

In some of its unique recent uses, Carrara marble was used to make a 70-metre banquet table for the wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. And it was used for a piano for Bon Jovi keyboardist, David Bryan.

Carrara’s major trade is not only its hottest export, it also continues to lure people in as a tourism drawcard.

To read the full story, pick up your copy of the March/April 2016 issue of Italianicious.

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