Places to Go : Carrara+Italy = Marble
Armed with booster shots and plenty of masks, John & Jim left San Francisco for glorious Italy in late September, 2021. Part of their 6 -week trip included a O.A.T. (Overseas Adventure Travel) tour exploring Tuscany and Umbria. For a few days last week, their home base was All Corte Deglia Angeli in Lucca. When I heard they toured a Carrara marble mine, I asked them to send photos. Thank heavens for texting!
Carrara marble is a type of white or blue-grey marble popular for use in sculpture and building decor for the last 2,000 years. Michelangelo sculpted his 17' David out of a solid block of Carrara marble, finishing in 1504. In modern times, there's a good chance you have some Carrara marble in your rooms. We have it surrounding our living room fireplace but I've dreamt of kitchen counters in honed Carrara marble. Now that I know more about dangerous and unfair mining practices, that dream has changed. (For more information, please read from tour description highlighted in red at bottom of this article).
John & Jim photographed the Ahpuan Alps foothills where there are 300+ active marble mines. All those white areas are either current or old mines. The rulers of this region established mining rules in 1564. Today, about 15,000 tons are mined daily.
Here's local quarry guide, Marco Barnaka. His family owned the quarry for generations and five years ago sold to a large Italian company.
Forty five minutes from Luca, John & Jim were in a Carrara marble mine.
A huge saw blade cuts marble into blocks.
Layers of marble.
Marble has an extensive history in Italy—it's been a part of Italian culture and industry for over 2,000 years. In addition to Carrara, Calacatta and Statuario also come from this region near the city of Carrara, Italy.
Thanks, John & Jim, for sharing! Have a great five days in Rome and then on to Scilly. Buon viaggio!
photos : John & Jim (except where noted)
Thought you might be interested in O.A.T.'s description of John & Jim's visit to Carrara.
Day 4, October 07, 2021 Lucca
• Controversial Topic: The health, economic, and environmental impacts of marble production
• Excursion to Carrara Marble Quarries
• Home-Hosted Lunch • Exclusive O.A.T. Activities: Today, we’ll discuss the Controversial Topic of the impacts of marble quarrying with former quarry worker Luigi Bernacca. The O.A.T. community is one that seeks to uncover the truth about a destination, and we believe this is why travelers have found this conversation to be particularly impactful. Although it reveals injustices and inequities, it will help you understand the past and current complexities of life in Carrara. Another exclusive O.A.T. activity we’ll enjoy today is a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family. This is a unique opportunity to see how people live and eat in this part of Italy, as well as to immerse yourself in daily life. Read more about these activities below.
Breakfast: Served at the hotel beginning at 6:30am, with Italian and American options available. Morning: We’ll begin the day by departing around 9am for Carrara, about a one-hour drive. Situated along the Carrione River, Carrara is a town that was originally built by the ancient Romans to house workers in the nearby quarries. Upon arrival, we’ll enjoy one of two revealing local interactions at the site. We might stop at a local marble workshop to meet with the owner and workers to see how blocks of Carrara marble are worked into a variety of shapes for industrial or artistic use. Or, we’ll discover another use of the local marble during a visit to a producer of “Lardo di Colonnata.” Here, we’ll meet a maker of this local delicacy and discover how the pig-back fat is cured in tubs of Carrara marble. Then, at about 10:30am, we’ll head up the winding mountain slopes of the Apuan Alps for an adventurous visit to the famous Carrara marble quarries, where the block of white marble used by Michelangelo to sculpt his David came from. Some 15,000 tons of marble are still extracted daily from the mountains. We’ll have a chance to walk around the grounds and even get to enter inside the marble caves for a behind-the-scenes look at the extraction process. If the day is clear, you may be able to enjoy scenic views of the surrounding mountains and the town below from the quarry. After our 1-hour walking tour, we’ll walk to a nearby shelter that is adjacent to the quarries.
Controversial Topic conversation. In the United States—and throughout the world—Carrara marble is considered the gold standard in luxury. But as we’ll find out, the process of producing the marble is far from luxurious, and the riches it garners have not made their way back to the town. Luigi is 72 years old, and for 48 of those years, he worked in the quarries. Over the decades, he’s witnessed the dramatic evolution of this contentious practice. When he started in the industry, he mined the marble using a hammer and chisel—a high-risk method that had the potential to result in injury, among a slew of other negative consequences. Today, machines have almost entirely replaced manual labor—however, this has not eliminated the dangers. He’ll share with us his firsthand perspective on this evolution and how he feels about marble quarrying today. Quarrying has existed in this region of Italy for many centuries, and, bizarrely, the industry still follows some of the original laws governing marble extraction. A 15th-century rule, still in effect today, stipulates that whoever finds marble in the mountains is entitled to keep the marble and establish a quarry on the premises, without having to pay taxes to the town or the municipality. In practice, this means that the quarry owners continue to get richer and richer, while none of the wealth generated by the quarries gets invested back into the town. Quarry workers spend their days (and working lives) handling some of the most expensive and sought-after materials in the world, only to return in the evenings to a town in financial hardship: Carrara, shockingly, is the poorest town in Italy. On top of the economic inequities faced by quarry workers, there are physical tolls as well. Working in the mines is dangerous and dirty; explosions, landslides, and falling rocks are commonplace. Accidents unfortunately happen all too often: In the last thirteen years alone, twelve quarry workers have died and more than 1,000 have been gravely injured. Many other workers have developed silicosis or cancer from breathing in the dust and chemicals of the mines, daily, over many years. Cancer-related deaths from the quarries have been recognized officially, and many families in Carrara are awaiting government assistance after the death of a loved one. But community members are often afraid to speak out about the issue, fearing retribution from the powerful quarry owners. The quarries are the area’s only source of employment; without them, families would have very little economic opportunity. Furthermore, the organization responsible for tracking the rate of work-related injuries and illnesses seems to have stopped doing so after a “reorganization” of sorts in 2017. As such, those connected to the quarries have reason to believe a cover-up could be at play here. In addition to the many hazardous risks posed to the workers, the local environment has suffered as well. While technically located within a protected area of the Apuan Alps, the quarries are not subject to the same safeguards as elsewhere in the region. As a result of centuries of blasting and marble extraction, the quarry mountains have actually shrunk in height over time. But as long as there continues to be a high demand for marble and consumers willing to pay top-dollar for the luxury of marble floors, countertops, and bathtubs, it’s unlikely that the regulations (or lack thereof) will change. Furthermore, it seems that the powers that be are unwilling to let go of Carrara’s history as a powerhouse marble producer. The city prides itself in this reputation and celebrates it just about everywhere you look: From the magnificent marbled Duomo to the marble intarsia inlay in the Piazza Alberica, the history of this practice is on full display. Take advantage of this opportunity to ask him any questions you may have—such as how he feels about the quarries’ impact on the town, and what regulations he thinks should exist to protect workers and the environment. Undoubtedly, this 1-hour conversation will shed light on a troubling topic that’s little-known outside of Italy, but will hopefully give you a broader understanding of Italy’s role as a luxury producer in the world market.
After our conversation concludes at about 12:30pm, we’ll take a 15-minute drive to the seaside town of Marina di Carrara, where we’ll split into smaller groups and be picked up by some local families for a 5-minute drive to their homes. These residences may be in traditional Italian-style apartment buildings or in single family homes. Lunch: At about 1pm, enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family in Marina di Carrara. Get to know your hosts and learn what it’s like living in the shadow of the quarries while savoring a home-cooked meal of regional cuisine. Our meal will consist of seasonal dishes that include a pasta or soup and meat or fish, depending on the days of the week (families here commonly enjoy fish on Tuesdays and Fridays). We’re afforded this special privilege by our small group size; by dining in groups of no more than 5, we’re given the chance to enter local homes and connect on a one-to-one level, and to even share a little with our hosts about who we are and what has brought us to Italy. This will be a great opportunity to ask them about life in Carrara, any customs they practice, and more. Afternoon: At about 3pm, we’ll depart Carrara by bus and return to Lucca, arriving back at our hotel by about 4pm. The remainder of the day is free to relax or explore independently. Dinner: On your own. You’re free to dine at the hotel or at a local restaurant in Lucca—maybe you will happen upon a mainstay for traditional fare a few minutes away. Evening: Free for your own discoveries. You can retire to your room for the night or ask your Trip Experience Leader for recommendations. You might opt to settle in at a local bar to people watch. For more info on this affordable, personal, small group travel company, check out oattravel.com.