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A Short History of Carrara Marble

Michelle Symonds

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Carrara Marble takes its name from the Italian city of Carrara in northern Tuscany, where it has been quarried for more than 2,000 years and is still being quarried to this day at a rate of about one million tons per year. It was during Roman times that the marble started to be extracted in great quantities as it became the material of choice for public buildings across the Roman Empire.

Approximately three-hundred quarries of various sizes are present in the region and constitute the largest of all the marble quarries across the globe. These quarries produce a wide range of different qualities of the marble. Historically, all of the marble was extracted using hand tools but as technology advanced, dynamite started to be used to obtain this highly sought-after product and now sophisticated cutting equipment enables extraction with relative ease and safety.

For millions of years in this region the shells of sea creatures had been accumulating on the sea-bed and started to form into limestone. The limestone eventually became buried and during the Jurassic period the heat and pressure generated by the movement of the Earth's tectonic plates caused the limestone rock to metamorphose into marble.

In some instances, crystalline minerals, such as quartz, calcite or dolomite, formed in the cavities within the marble. They are typically perfectly shaped crystals with stunning clarity and a variety of colours such as green, red and yellow. Their shape and colour is further enhanced by the pure white marble surrounding them. Quartz crystals tend to always be colourless and very shiny due to the perfectly flat faces of the crystals. Whilst beautiful to look at, the presence of a large proportion of crystals is, unfortunately, detrimental to the quality of the marble.

One of the reasons that Carrara marble is so famous is that it was used by some of the most famous sculptors in the world, such as Michelangelo, to create exquisite statues. It was used for Michelangelo’s famous masterpiece “David”, which was created in the early 1500s but was also used for many other works of art by Giotto, Bernini and others.

It is possible to visit to the quarries of Carrara with those in the area around the ancient village of Colonnata being the most impressive. Colonnata was said to have been founded by the Romans to house the slaves they employed in the quarries. There are spectacular views over the town of Carrara and the vast quarries themselves from Fantiscritti where there is also an exhibition of quarrying methods from the ancient times to the present day, with examples of the implements used for excavating and cutting the marble from the mother rock, sawing the blocks into slabs and transporting them.

Carrara marble is usually white in colour but often contains greyish veining. With the purest white being the highest quality and most desirable for creating statues and sculptures. It is the most expensive marble in the world and once the marble blocks have been extracted from the quarry, they are cut and polished and made into many different types of desirable objects such as fireplaces, ornaments, statues, gravestones, floor tiles and wall tiles .


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