If you go to Carrara you must take a tour to the famous quarries of white marble, right off the city center. But first there is something you should know about it.
The marble quarries of Carrara
As I said before Carrara is renowned for its marble that is extracted since Roman times and probably even before. Since 5th century b.C. it was used to built monuments, buildings and works of art.
All the famous sculptors came to Carrara to get this precious marble over the centuries. The most renowned artist is certainly is Michelangelo, who came here in 16th century to choose the best marble to create his stunning Pietá. But Michelangelo is just one of the thousands of artists that came, and still are coming, to Apuan Alps, such as Canova and Cattelan.
Nowadays there are 105 marble quarries in activity out of 188 censused, that are extracting more than 5 millions of marble tons every year. And every day about 1000 trucks loaded with marble depart from the quarries.
The marbleous tour of Carrara quarries
First off, Carrara marble quarries are a real working place and not Disneyland. Said that, you should take a tour to visit this stunning place and you cannot explore the area by yourself, because it could be dangerous.
There is only one tour company licensed to do that, and it’s probably the best tour you’ll do off-the-beaten paths. This is Cave di Marmo Tour owned by Gabriele who is The Guide and not just a guide.
Gabriele knows Carrara and its history perfectly, as well as the area, the people and traditons. I think he was a carrettiere in his previous life and to know why you should know him.
The quarries tour starts on board of a green Land Rover, that will soon shake like a washing machine while exploring the quarries. First stop is Cava Gioia, one of the largest quarries at about 1100 meters over the sea level. To reach it we climbed up the Apuan Alps following huge dumpers overloaded with marble.
Then we reached Cava Ciresuola driving through the streets of trucks that look like snakes of asphalt. Actually the basement is made of huge blocks of marble then covered with asphalt. When it rains hard roads collapse frequently and have to be rebuilt quickly to get workers back home.
While over there you can see huge trucks and bulldozers working to extract marble. I felt extremily tiny because of them and because of the massive blocks. In addition the view is breathtaking: the white color of marble is bright and in perfect contrast with the dark colors of the Apuan Alps. It looks like a lunar landscape, it’s incredible.
Other two stops are included in the tour: Cava Polvaccio and CavaBombarda. The last one is better known as Cava of Michelangelo since it was here that Michelangelo got the marble. Before to leave you’ll also explore the inner part of quarries driving through dark tunnels underneath the mountains.
The miracle of Lardo di Colonnata
Colonnata is a tiny village in the middle of marble quarries. It was the home town of marble workes who inveted the delicious Lardo, that was the perfect food for a day out in the quarries providing defences against cold temperature and lots of enegy.
Lard is made out of the fat of pig’s shoulder and neck. Slices of lard are then placed inside large squared cases of marble and covered with a first layer of sea salt, a layer of aromatic herbs (rosmarine, santoreggia montana a local herb, laurel oak, garlic) and a layer of spices (pepper, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg and cloves). And then start all over again until the marble case is full. The case is closed for the next six months and let chemistry do the rest. Actually chemistry makes the trick getting Lardo of Colonnata a miracle: bad cholesterol disappear turning lard into a precious help for your health.
At Bottega La Stazione, right outside Colonnata, you can see hoe lard is make, as well as tasting it together with local hams and cheeses.
- Take the Quarries Tour – marble quarries as I said, are a working place and a pretty dangerous one. Gabriele has special agreements with marble quarries to arrange the access to quarries in the safest way. You cannot tour quarries alone and cheaper tours don’t have insurance and won’t take you inside the quarries.
- Shop for marble – on the way to quarries there are few marble shops that have everthing made out of marble at incredibly cheap prices.
- Shop for Lardo – it’s produced locally, you can see how it’s made and prices are really reasonable.