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A Brief History of the Beautiful Carrara Marble

by Ginger Perales

Posted on July 20, 2017 07:00:00 AM


White Carrara marble is considered to be one of the most prestigious natural stones in the world. It has a bright and sophisticated appearance featuring intricate veins across its surface. Its aesthetic qualities have made this white marble among the most sought-after material for artists, sculptors and architects alike.

Every piece of Carrara marble comes from one place, the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany, outside of the city of Carrara, where it’s been quarried for over 2,000 years.

 

White Carrara Marble Countertop

 

History

The ancient Romans were the first society to use this flawless white marble, and over the next 1,000 years, the marble was extracted so extensively that the area became responsible for producing more stone than any other region in the world. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the mines were overseen by the Cybo-Malaspina family, who established the "Office of Marble" to regulate the Carrara marble mining industry in 1564. After the Cybo-Malaspina family line died out, management of the mines fell to the House of Austria, who ruled Holy Roman Empire between 1438 and 1740.

 

The Carrara deposits are not owned outright by any private person or company, instead, they are what is considered state property. The present procedure for working them is to lease a certain portion. The lease price is so low, however, that the state receives very little of the revenue generated by the marble industry.

 

Working the Mines

Historically, quarry workers held radical beliefs, that set them apart from other Italians. Anarchism became part of their heritage when revolutionists, expelled from Switzerland and Belgium, traveled to Carrara in 1885 and created Italy’s first anarchist group.

 

During the Roman period, marble blocks were extracted by hand using chisels and hammers. In the 18th century, black powder became part of the extraction process but was soon limited because of the effect it had on the stone. Real advancement came with the introduction of diamond wire sawing towards the end of the 19th century. This extraction method is still used to this day along with new concepts in quarrying technology, which are continuously being produced to help the extraction process go a lot smoother and faster. Quarry work is a tough job and requires great strength. This hard labor requires laborers to move mountains. Although still arduous work, today quarry work isn't as tough as it used to be, due to advancements in technology.

 

Marble Mining Today

Today, over half of the quarries above Carrara (approximately 650) have exhausted their supply or have been abandoned. The quarries, however, continue to remove the marble from the slopes of Apuan Alps, shipping approximately one million tons every year.

 

The more coloring in a marble stone, the less sought after. The coloring occurs when other minerals are present in the limestone at the time that heat or pressure converts it to marble. There are many variations of Carrara with more or less white and gray veins due to this process. This means that no two stones are alike.

 

Notable Uses

 

Michelangelo's Pieta Sculpture is made of Carrara Marble

Carrara marble has been used to create pieces of art, monuments, palaces, and places of worship around the world for centuries. Some of its most notable uses include:

 

Ancient Rome’s Pantheon

Michelangelo's Pieta

London’s Marble Arch

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Appolo and Daphne by Bernini

Appolo and Daphne Sculpture By Bernini made of Carrara Marble

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