Italy – Marble blocks from the famous quarries

This is the pleasant and far-famed little town of Carrara, nestling so peacefully amid the grandeur and sublimity of the Apuan Alps. Yet picturesque as is its situation, that is not what gives it world-wide fame. It is renowned as the location of the celebrated marble quarries of Carrara, the finest and purest marble known. As you will observe, the town is built of marble ; and marble walls and statuary, in rich profusion on every hand, give a cheerful aspect to it all. The quarries are situated in the valleys which extend away from the town into the mountain fastness beyond – the valleys of Frantiscritti, Colonnata and Torano. These quarries were worked by the Romans, but after the fall of the Western Roman Empire they were abandoned, and became lost to the outside world. When the magnificent cathedral of Pisa was planned, it was necessary to procure the finest marble for the work, and the Carrara quarries were practically re-discovered. Since that time they have supplied the marble for nearly all the great churches in Italy, as well as for all the masterpieces of Italian sculpture. In some of the quarries worked by the Romans were found ancient works of art, notably in the quarries of Frantiscritti, so-called from the ” Fanti Scritti,” three small figures of Jupiter, Bacchus and Hercules, sculptured upon a rock. These were called f anti (soldiers) by the peasants. Here also was found a votive altar, dedicated by a certain Villicus, a decurion of the slaves employed here in the time of Tiberius. The town to-day has a population of about twelve thousand, all of whom depend for a livelihood upon the marble industry. There are nearly four hundred and fifty quarries in full operation here, and five thousand persons are engaged in working them, Work begins at five in the morning and continues until two in the afternoon, the pay being but two francs a day.

There is one continuous line of sculptors’ studios extending the whole length of the town, and, as one would naturally expect from the presence of so many artists, works of art glisten everywhere in the sunlight.

It is interesting to study the scene before us in detail. Notice near us the roadway, hardened by pulverizing broken pieces of marble, and extending from the railway station to the quarries also high above the houses of the town, how this road ascends the side of the mountains on arches. It required considerable engineering skill for its construction.

In among the blocks of marble you observe numerous sculptors at work, and in the middle of the level space you will note the cabin, in which tools are kept and where the workmen resort in stormy weather. From where we are looking the view of the surrounding mountains is sternly imposing, as they are one arid gray mass of towering rock without a trace of vegetation on the loftier heights ; while the surface of these mighty bastions is cut into deep, cavernous ravines capped by sky-piercing pinnacles of awe-inspiring grandeur. You may discern the quarries in these ravines and along the mountain sides by their white color, which stands out conspicuously against the gray ground of the surface rock.

We shall ascend the road you see skirting the mountain far above the town, and enter one of those glens wherein the principal quarries are opened.