The Marble that made the Renaissance

Most of the amazing buildings in Florence including Michelangelo’s David are made of the most famous marble in the world.  The city of Florence is virtually made of the stone which is found in the Tuscan mountains surrounding Carrara.  These mountains are the primary reason Tuscany was so important to the Renaissance artists who used this special stone for their work.

The Romans were the first to extract it 2,000 years ago and use it for sculptures and architecture.  Today, Carrara exports half a million tons of different marbles a year and it’s estimated that it provides about 40 per cent of the USA’s demand for marble. What characterises the Carrara marble is the perfection of the shape of the crystals, the incredible transparency and sharpness.

The Apuan Alps above Carrara show evidence of at least 650 quarry sites, with about half of them currently abandoned or worked out.The Carrara quarries have produced more marble than any other place on earth.

Working the quarries is and has always been dangerous. In September 1911, a collapsing cliff face at the Bettogli Quarry crushed 10 workers who were on lunch break under a precipice.

By the end of the 19th century, Carrara had become a cradle of anarchism in Italy, in particular among the quarry workers who  were among the most neglected labourers in Italy. Many of them were ex-convicts or fugitives from justice. The work at the quarries was so tough and arduous that almost any aspirant worker with sufficient muscle and endurance was employed, regardless of their background.

The quarry workers and stone carvers developed radical beliefs and embraced Anarchism. It was said  “even the stones are anarchists.”

More marble has been extracted from the over 650 quarry sites near Carrara than from any other place. The pure white statuariograde was used for monumental sculpture, as it has a high tensile strength, can take a high gloss polish and holds very fine detail.By the late 20th century Carrara’s highest-grade marble had run out; but there is considerable ongoing production is of stone with a greyish tint, or streaks of black or grey on white.

The marble from Carrara was used for some of the most remarkable buildings in Ancient Rome including The Pantheon and Trajan’s Column.

Other notable sites where it has been used include Marble Arch and the Victoria Memorial in  London, the Manila Cathedral in the Philippines, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in  France and the Saadian Tombs in Marrakesh, Morocco.


Destination – Italy