Two weeks ago I spent the weekend in Carrara and surroundings to discover this lovely area thanks to Provincia di Massa e Carrara together with my blogmates and friends Tiana Kai, Georgette aka Girl in Florence, Stefano and Raffaele aka Milo Films. I’ve got to admit that I was never been there before and it was a pleasant surprise.
Carrara, the marbleous city
The city of Carrara is located in North-West Tuscany set between the Apuan Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s not that far from Florence, about 90 minutes driving, but it’s often considered not part of Tuscany. People from Carrara don’t have the classical Tuscan accents, don’t eat tasteless bread and have not Etruscan origins. As a matter of fact the area has been recently added in Tuscany, i.e. in late 19th century. In the past century it has mostly been an independent province closer to Ligurian traditions and history than to Tuscan ones.
The city dates back to 9th century when the Apuan people lived in the area and the town was just a settlement for marble quarries’ workers. The Romans discovered this marvelous treasure and since Carrara’s fate has been tied to marble. Even nowadays people are strongly related to marble as direct or indirect quarries’ workers, artists, tourism operators and so on.
Actually marble is everywhere in Carrara, and I mean everywhere. Doors and windows frames, benches, steps, flower vases, counters and anything can be made out of marble. Really impressive. In contrast with the white marble shades, houses are painted with bright colors such as red, orange and yellow. Balconies and windows are full of flowers, and behind curtains you can spot grandmas and cats staring at you.
Something I really like about the marbleous city is slow life you have there. Grandpas are reading newspaper or just playing cards at local cafès, or chatting in the gardens and main squares. Shops open late and take a long break at lunch, as it used to be in the past times. This is the real dolce vita!
What to see
All persons that said that Carrara is not worth a visit, have never been there! It’s full of great stories, as well as great artworks such as the Duomo, entirely covered by Carrara marble. Entitled to Sant’Andrea, it dates back to 12th century. Inside you can admire a stunning marble Annunciation. Made by unknown master in 14th century it’s a unique piece of marble: it’s a medieval artwork but both the Angel and Maria are in movement and Maria is on the brink of pulling herself back from the Angel (very rare in depiction of Maria). On the faced you can see the large and beautiful rose window, that indicates the Ghibelline’s soul of the city (i.e. Medieval supporter of the Emperor against the Pope) with the holy lamb looking at North. In addition if you look at the crossed keys over the lamb from the bottom of the funny hand-sign on the bottom-right facade at night, it will indicate the Polar star!
In Piazza Duomo you can also see another funny sign. First off I should say that Carrara people, or Carrarini as they kindly call themselves, are pretty much independent, proud and free people, full of sense of humor with an important history of anarchism. Then on the facade of the ancient Town hall, located right in front of the Ghibelline door of the Duomo, you can spot a nude child in marble. The child is covering up his genital area and it was a reminder for all citizens to respect each other.
From the Duomo you reach the former Via Carriona (via Santa Maria today) that was the most important and busy street from Roman times to 17th century. This was the “street of marble” where the artisans’ workshops were located and were the marble passed through from the quarries to the sea. You can notice that several houses were built in massive marble and are one different from the other having peculiar signs indicating what was the workshop for. Another peculiarity along this street are the the bedpan holders on buildings’ facade. These were used in the past times when houses didn’t have toilets and bedpans used to be emptied out of the windows. As a matter of fact Carrara cart drivers were not very nice people and of course, didn’t like to get a dirty shower while passing through. So they build bedpan holders on facades.
Then you reach Palazzo Cybo Malaspina, former medieval castle and residence of the Malaspina family. Today it hosts the School of fine arts and preserves some great artworks. Next to the castle there is the large Piazza d’Armi. At the bottom of the garden you can see marble figures popping out from the grass, such as hippos in love and fierce crocodiles.
Finally Piazza Alberica, the main city square. It’s bordered by important buildings and has a nicely decorated marble floor. In the middle of the square there is a large fountain with the 19th century statue of Duchess Maria Beatrice D’Este by Pietro Fontana.
TooMuchShopping in Carrara
The city center is full of lovely shops and stores. I recommend you visit I Salotti located on the first and noble floor of Palazzo del Medico Starfetti in Piazza Alberica. This is a real Italian tailor, making unique clothes entirely by hand (even the buttonholes are handmade). Every garment is 100% made in Tuscany by locals. The atelier is stunning, decorated with original stuccos, wallpapers and marble floors. They also have a tea room, where you can taste different teas and local biscuits, as well as a large exhibit area. Another lovely shop is still in Piazza Alberica and it’s called “La Contessa del Bengala“. It sells nice handmade jewelry and bags at reasonable prices.
Where to sleep
My base for the weekend was the 4 star Hotel Michelangelo in the center of Carrara. It’s a design hotel with several contemporary artworks, having as main theme small colorful houses. It offers large rooms with marble bathroom, of course, and balconies from which you can admire the landscape. But the best place is the rooftop terrace, that is also the breakfast room. From up there you can see the Apuan Alps and the city of Carrara on one side and the sea on the other side.
- Eat calda-calda – this is a typical chickpea cake made of chickpea flour. Similar to Livorno’s torta di ceci, but as Carrara people like to say, it’s way better than that! You can have fresh and hot calda-calda in Via Santa Maria at Pizzeria Tognozzi.
- Relax in Piazza Alberica – this is the perfect square for Dolce Vita. I loved sitting at Cafè Leon D’Oro, drinking a good coffee and looking at the landscape.
- Graffiti artwork in Piazza delle Erbe – on a pink house there is a large and colorful graffiti depicting Francesca Rolla and her quote “Don’t give up your city”. Francesca was a partisan and during WWII she directed the fight and the insurrection against the Nazis. She actually saved Carrara from the German occupation.
- Don’t miss The Carrara Marble Weeks – during Summer the city hosts this great event called Carrara Marble Weeks. Streets and piazzas host contemporary marble artworks, several workshops, guided tours, concert and other special events. See more info here.
- Enjoy the Sunset in Marina di Massa – about 20 minutes driving from the center there is the sea town of Marina di Massa. It’s a nice destination to spend a day at a beach and stare at sunset. If you want to spoil yourself go to Hotel Villa Marimonti. This lovely villa has a nice garden and serves delicious happy hour accompanied by live piano music.
- Read also A Marbleous Tour of Carrara by Tiana and 9 reasons to visit Carara by Georgette aka Girl in Florence.