Carrara marble from the Apian Alps: Another famous ancient workable stone

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria).

This is the last in a series of four articles I have written on the quarries and marble of the ancient world and the works of art made from it. The others (Mining in Ancient Greece and Rome, Marble from the Isle of Paros in Ancient Greece – a tour of the ancient quarries and Roman quarries in Austria and Germany – a short sight-seeing tour) appeared in Issues 41, [52] and [53] of Deposits. Therefore, after our tours to the famous quarries of the Isle of Paros and the Roman stone quarries in Central Europe, we come to another location, which is well-known for its workable stone. I am talking about the city of Carrara, with its marble of the same name. Carrara is located in the province of Massa and Carrara, in the so-called Lunigiana, which represents the northernmost tip of Tuscany in Italy. Carrara marble is a white to blue-grey rock of high quality that has become popular for its use in sculpture and building decor.

The extraordinary characteristics of this rock were already recognised by the Romans, who started their mining activities in the second century BC. In ancient times, the marble was commonly referred to as “Luni” and used for the production of houses, figures and monuments. Due to the high demand for the workable stone, more and more quarry sites were exploited, which finally resulted in a total number of 650 mines. Today, about half of them are either abandoned or worked out. Historical studies provide evidence that the Carrara quarries produced more marble than any other place on earth.

Fig. 1. Typical appearance of a Carrara quarry, with its extensive mining areas and a narrowgauge railway for transportation of the square material to the next harbour. (Photo: Von Klaus with K – Eigenes Werk (his photo), GFDL di_Vara04_2007-03-30.jpg)

Later, Carrara marble was further quarried and most often employed in the production of sacred monuments. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the marble quarries came under control of the Cybo and Malaspina, two traditional families ruling over the cities of Massa and Carrara. Through the creation of the ‘Office of Marble’, mining of this rock was subjected to a strict modernisation and thus achieved industrial scales. After the death of Duke Francesco V (the last of the Cybo-Malaspina clan) without male offspring, the region became part of the Habsburg monarchy, which resulted in the temporary shutting down of the quarries. By the end of the nineteenth century, Carrara became a cradle of anarchism in Italy. This development particularly covered the quarry workers, who ranked among the most neglected labourers in Italy and included lots of ex-convicts or fugitives from justice. Soon, the quarries became hot spots of radicalism and violence, from where regional revolts were provoked.

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