The Marble Mines of Carrara – Visiting this special place is quite an experience and these beautiful mountains with their white treasure, exposed for all to see, even from the railway line way below them, are available to visit only a couple of hours away from Florence by train.
After chatting and snacking for nearly two hours aboard the train winding North to Northwest from Florence my small group and I were met at Carrara Avenza station by our guide Marco, who took us in his minivan carefully winding up the marble-dusted roads into the Massa Carrara mountain range until, where still way up high above us we could finally see where the white Carrara marble quarries are hacked into the mountain face.
There are 43 quarries, most looking similar to the ones shown above and below.
Visitors have to wear high-visibility jackets and hard-hats, but health and safety at work regulations don’t seem to figure highly in the concerns of the workforce. The guy below was being fork-lifted onto a higher plane of cut marble.
All of these quarries were previously small private Italian family-run businesses. Now, in these days of Global Economy, all but 3 of these mines have been incorporated into 2 large International conglomerates.
The minivan bounced its way along the roller-coaster road through the narrow tunnels cut into the mountains, until we arrived at a central valley where we saw in close-up the rock face of the marble mines. Surprisingly, given its reputation for the purity of its white much of it wasn’t pure white but appeared to be rusty red Carrara marble. This was because when cut it can become stained by the elements or the cutting gear.
View from the
top of the mountain
There are three ways used to cut marble; one of which for large blocks, is a huge circular saw, the original way is using a Diamond cutter, which is still used in the older mines, and now a modern method uses a mix of water and a cutter.
Various cutting devices
Gigantic circular saw for slicing huge blocks
In the centre of the mountain range there is an old mine where there is an ancient brick bridge still standing but now unusable after a bomb attack in the early 1900’s by latter-day Italian “Luddites” whilst protesting against proposed changes from using their traditional gentle white oxen and mules to transport the precious marble and replacing them with lorries and vans to take them to the River Arno for shipment to Florence and Pisa.
In these Cities for more than six centuries, Carrara’s marble would be shaped and polished into fire-proof cladding for stately cathedrals or fashioned into timeless sculptures such as Michelangelo’s David (1501-1504)
or, nearer to my home in London, Jean-Louis Roubiliac’s 1783 image of Georg-Friedrich Handel specifically created for Vauxhall Gardens
where some of his works were premiered.
Today, Carrara marble is more likely to be loaded into giant containers bound for the bathrooms of millionaires in China or Russia.
The highlight of our day at the Carrara quarries was another bouncy ride through a mountain galleria that leads to a working quarry inside a mountain.
Brilliantly lit, the quarry clearly shows how over the millennia, the strata of marble underground lies flat like so much thinly-pressed paper whilst in the marble mines outside you can see these lines, lying at 45-degree or more angles where they have been pushed up by the pressure from beneath.
Standing inside a mountain made of shining marble creates a sense of time and wonder that is not easily forgotten.
Many thanks to my little group for joining me when it was cold and cloudy – I will be taking more groups in the summer when hopefully we will get clearer views.