Discovering Michelangelo’s Marble in Carrera

When I took the Overseas Adventure Travel trip Tuscany and Umbria: Italy’s Rustic Heartland, I expected many things the region is famous for, all of which I experienced. But it is the unexpected discoveries that remain with a traveler, and which turn an excellent trip into an outstanding one. So it was in Carrera, an Italian city known for its marble quarries. I had never heard of it before. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Michelangelo went to the exact same quarry when he purchased the marble to create his famous Statue of David. Same quarry, same stone.

 In Carrera, the mountain range there is filled not with snow, but with white marble. It is part of the Apuan Alps and it’s clearly visible from the highway. We walked around the quarry that got its origin 25 million years ago, and watched the stone being cut by heavy equipment that took a long time to get a small amount of progress, barely complete because of the hardness and thickness of the stone. Some 650 quarry sites have been discovered in Carrera, which has produced more marble than any place else on earth. And as is typical for travel, after our visit to the quarry, I heard about Carrera marble numerous times during my five weeks of travel.  

Carrera marble has been used since the time of ancient Rome. It became regulated as a mining industry in the 1500s. It was in such wide use in the 18th and 19th centuries, the workers had issues with safety in their work, and were among the most neglected workers in Italy with former convicts and fugitives from justice working in the quarries as one of the few places they could find work. Anarchy literally broke out in the area because of the poor working conditions, with revolutionaries from all over Europe moving there to form an official anarchist organization. Working in the quarries has always been dangerous, but beautiful monuments such as London’s Marble Arch and the Pantheon in Greece  have been created from Carrera marble. Other famous monuments around the world have been made of it, including at least one in Washington, DC. While Michelangelo’s marble was pure white in 1501, todays Carrera marble has grey and other colors mixed in. The pure white marble has all been unearthed.

After our visit to the quarry, we stayed in Carrera for the home hosted lunch and learned how vital marble production was to the local economy. The family and most of the neighborhood made their livelihood working for the company that cuts and sells the marble. In fact, they mentioned they used to go to Russia on business. I inquired further about it, and the man of the house who is a manager there, said they are still trading with Russia, just though the oligarchs. He indicated that with that system in place, it will be a long time for trade to stop despite the current sanctions in place. Our trip to Carrera coincided with other events relative to Russia as well; Vladimir Putin’s private yacht had been recently seized off the cost of Carrera shortly before our trip.

A place like Carrera is the kind of travel surprise I enjoy the most; a place with natural resources  used to create some of the great art and monuments in the world for centuries, and yet one that is current with today’s events. Travel does not get any better than this. 

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