When you think of visiting Italy, is a Carrara marble mine tour on your boomer itinerary? On a guided road trip in northern Italy, we told Claudio of A La Carte Italy Tours, “the more off-the-beaten-path, the better.” That’s why during our stay in Lucca, Alan and I found ourselves inside a mountain with white marble dust coating our shoes.
It’s a short drive (approximately 26 miles) from Lucca to the valley of Fantiscritti in the heart of the Carrara marble basin. If the name Carrara sounds familiar to our boomer readers, this is where Michelangelo chose the marble for his sculpture masterpieces like the David.
As Claudio guided the van into the Apuan Alps from the town of Carrara, marble blocks were stacked beside the road like giant building blocks. Soon, open pit quarries and equipment appeared, indicating that, indeed, this is a mining area. In fact, some 300 quarries produce marble that’s exported throughout the world from the port of Marina di Carrara.
The landscape began to take on a ghostly hue as a thin coating of white marble dust covered the plants and trees. Halfway up the mountain, Claudio parked the van. From the parking lot we could see an open pit marble mine in front of us. But that wasn’t our destination. No, for the next 30 minutes we would be spending time inside the mountain with Marmo Tours.
Accompanied by two small groups of Italian families — we were the only Americans — a driver and guide (both spoke English) drove the van through a narrow tunnel that burrowed approximately one-half mile into the mountain to Quarry Gallery Ravaccione No. 84. And our Carrara Marble Mine Tour began.
After exiting the van, we stood on the marble surface as the guides switched on the floodlights and an enormous marble cavern revealed itself. A roped-off area indicated the space where workers were currently mining.
In Roman times, slaves would have gouged out the mountain with picks. Today, as we learned from the guide’s comments, machines with water-powered saws shear off chunks of white marble from inside the mountain.
Footsteps echoed as the group walked from one cathedral-like room to the next. Sculpted pieces of marble were scatted about to show the possibilities held within a block of limestone. It takes an artist to add warmth and life to the cold, white stone.
Marble totally surrounded us — overhead, in the walls and on the solid surface beneath our feet. The marble was smooth, but cold to the touch, when I gently ran my hand across one of the walls.
Our Carrara mrable mine tour ended back in the parking lot. Across the way, several gift shops and marble studios lined the road for shoppers in search of a souvenir. Since our visit was on a Saturday, there were no trucks hauling blocks of marble down the narrow roads that wind in and out of the mountains. I could only imagine what the visit would have been like during the week.
Back on the highway, we could once again see the white tipped peaks of the Apuan Alps. On first sight, it appeared to be evidence of an early snow, but it was really white marble deposits and dust that decorated this Italian mountain scene. Did you know that the large marble deposit is visible from outer space?
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