Italy – Marble for all of Italy’s master sculptures, Carrara

Does it not appear as though a marble world had been wrecked and the fragments scattered upon these hillsides? It would seem as though those six yoke of oxen should be ranged on the upper side of that heavy truck in order to hold back that immense load. It is interesting to note the length of their horns and the long stout chain attached to each yoke by which the cumbersome cart is drawn, as well as the chain that holds the huge block of marble in place.

That Italian boy with his frank, sunny face wreathed in smiles and his patched trousers and shoes with nail-covered soles, is a veritable picture of contentment, and tends to soften the harsh features of an otherwise rugged landscape.

This is the steep ascent to Torano, in the valley of Ravaccione. The summit commands a splendid view -on one side the stately Massa, and the blue quivering expanse of the Mediterranean ; while on the other yawn the tortuous ravines winding in and out among the mountains in which are situated the quarries. Dickens has aptly described the position of these marble quarries : ” There are four or five great glens running up into a range of lofty hills, until they can run no longer, and are stopped by being abruptly strangled by nature.”

This huge block which the oxen are drawing was quarried right under Monte Sagro, the most picturesque portion of the marble district, and in a near-by quarry (the Bidizzano), are found remains of ancient Roman workmanship executed in the quarry so as to save the labor of the transportation of the rough material. All around are lying pilasters, columns, and architraves, blocked-out, but never finished.

While there’ are nearly four hundred and fifty quarries in full operation, only a half dozen supply the fine-grained, delicate statuary marble. These are the Riccanaglia, Colonnata, Piastrone, Muglia and Albissima ; the last furnished the marble employed by Michelangelo in his immortal sculptures, and it still yields the most precious of all marbles, which is carried to all parts of the world. Ex-President Garfield’s monument, at Cleveland, Ohio, was made of it. These quarries are now owned by the great American Marble Trust, in which Senator Proctor, of Vermont, owns the controlling interest. This corporation has introduced the latest machinery for sawing and polishing. The quantity of marble exported annually amounts to one hundred thousand tons, valued at a million and a quarter of dollars.

Having seen the home of the famous Carrara marble, and looked upon the snowy blocks in the crude state, it will be interesting to see some of the splendid structures and immortal works of art that men have produced with this celebrated stone. In order to do this we go now, as our general map shows, fifty miles southeast to Pisa.

This quiet town of thirty thousand inhabitants, situated six miles from the sea, was once a powerful city. At the beginning of the eleventh century, Pisa was one of the greatest commercial towns in Italy, rivaling even Venice and Genoa. Its power was broken by the protracted wars which it carried on with Genoa, by whom it was disastrously defeated, near Leghorn, on the sixth of August, 1284, and to whom it lost Corsica and other provinces. In 1405, it was sold to Florence, to which city it ever after continued to be subject. In the world of art, it occupied a conspicuous place, both in painting and sculpture, but it was in the domain of architecture that it won its greatest renown, the masterpieces of which are still preserved and which we shall now have the pleasure of seeing.