Posted by: debrakolkka | August 6, 2011

Our marble mountains

Bagni di Lucca sits in these mountains

The Apuan Alps behind nearby Carrara contain the world’s largest deposits of marble. At the end of the Triassic and the beginning of the Jurassic era, when this region was underwater, limestone, shell and alluvial deposits were compressed at high temperatures by shock waves caused by the rise in the level of the sea.  The result was marble.  Over 100 million years later, when the water level sank, the marble deposits  came to the surface, reaching heights of 2,000 metres.

that white stuff is not snow - it's marble

The Romans first started quarrying marble, using slaves and captured workers. As you can imagine it was heavy, dangerous work. Iron wedges had to be driven with large hammers into cracks to break the blocks away from the mountain. Sometimes wedges of dry wood would be driven into cracks and then soaked in water. When the wood swelled the marble would crack.

The resulting blocks could weigh anything up to 20 tons and had to be lowered with ropes held by men down the steep slopes over logs smeared with soap. There would be teams of workers on either side of the block. Obviously it was incredibly dangerous work. Once down the mountain, the blocks were loaded onto oxcarts and taken to the port and shipped to Rome. The methods remained much the same until fairly recent times. In the 1970s modern operations were introduced. In mainly opencast mining, horizontal and vertical channels are bored along the edges of the rock, along which a diamond studded cutting cable is inserted. Trucks now do the work of the ox carts.

it all looks lovely from here

part of the marble reserves

In the 3 clefts of Colonnata, Miseglia and Torano above Carrara there are 190 quarries. The annual output is 1 million tons. It is estimated that the marble reserves will run out in 1,000 years. The most prized pure white marble is almost all gone.  

changing the shape of the mountain

 It is definitely worth a trip up into the mountains behind Carrara. It is possible to go into the cave where Michelangelo got the marble for his David. There is also an excellent museum up there where you can see how the marble workers lived and worked. Then head up to Colonnata for some lardo. Click here for more on this treat.


Responses

  1. We really enjoyed our day trip to Carrara too, BdL, Still haven’t eaten all that Colonnata lardo though. As you said, a little bit of fat goes a long way.

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    • I have to be in the mood for lardo and it has to be prepared by somebody else. I don’t like looking at that slab of fat.

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  2. Quarrying makes me sad, I know it’s always gone on and we benefit from the beauty of the objects and buildings created from these stones but once the mountains and landscape are destroyed they are gone forever. I don’t know who will walk in marbled palaces in a few thousand years time. When we had our new kitchen we chose not to use marble or granite but had a worktop made from recycled glass and resin, a small and probably futile gesture on my part no doubt. Thank you for this post and the beautiful photo, it has made me very thoughtful this morning… 🙂

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    • I’m not sure I want to see the mountains destroyed either. There is no stopping it now. Fortunately the mountains around our village have no marble. Our Vergemoli house is built from stones gathered from the property, but it didn’t destroy the hillside in the process. Our kitchen bench in Brisbane is made from wood – I am the daughter of a carpenter.

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  3. Interesting to hear about how marble is obtained and the history behind it.

    Lardo, I haven’t tried and think I would be a little nervous about it. Being a slab of fat and all!

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    • Lardo is delicious if it is sliced very finely and served on toasted bread. It is better if you don’t know what it is.

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  4. I have to confess that I asked for Carrara marble to have as a worktop in our mulino kitchen. The cabinet maker had to have special reinforcements made in the cupboards as it weighs a ton. But it is the best worktop you can have. I had special grooves made into the sink and they are a great addition.
    As for lardo, it is delicious on freshly baked foccaccia, although I do not think it would be wise to eat it very often. But once in a while…. it should not hurt.

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    • I thought our benchtops in our Bagni di Lucca were marble until I put something hot on them and left a perfect burnt circle – oops!

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  5. I’ve heard a lot about Carrara marble but I had no idea it was such a prominent feature of the mountains – the veins really do look like snow! Insightful post as always Debra, thank you for sharing!

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    • It is quite confusing to look up in summer to see white capped mountains.

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  6. Oh, good for you. I have wanted to post about this for a long time, and have never gotten around to it. I’m so glad you did! (You are more thorough with your history and research than I every am…so it’s a good thing you got “there” first!) Wonderful post. Thank you!

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    • I went a couple of years ago to Carrara and the mountains behind – before I really started taking photos. I think I need to go back. The roads with the huge trucks and the wonderful old outdoor museum need another visit.

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  7. Sorry, that last “anonymous” post was from me.

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  8. oops. sorry again.

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  9. Hello Debra and Liz and thanks for your comments. I have bookmarked your blog and I am going to have a proper read through it tomorrow, it looks really good.

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    • Hi there, I’m doing the same with yours – love it. Deb

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  10. Fascinating post (I’ve learnt something new today)! The marble looks spectacular on the mountain like that. I’d love to visit the cave that Michelangelo obtained the marble from. How cool.

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    • I’ve been into the cave. Next time I go I will take pictures.

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  11. You always take us to so many lovely areas of Italy that I’ve never seen before!

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  12. I really loved this entry and sent in a comment. It was never posted and I tried WordPress.com to see why (it’s not the first time) it never arrived. Alas, to no avail. You bring wonderful and very interesting places, events and FOOD with your anecdotes, beautiful photos, facts and comments; whirling through cyberspace. Just a treat and always appreciated.

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    • I don’t know about the comments. The internet is a mystery to me. I’m glad you go through finally.

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  13. The roast meat vendor at the Camogli market put slices of lardo between the meat and vegetables in her kebabs. YUM!

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  14. […] Our marble mountains « Bagni di Lucca and Beyond It is possible to go into the cave where Michelangelo got the marble for his David. There is also an excellent museum up there where you can see how the marble workers lived and worked. Then head up to Colonnata for some lardo. I don't know who will walk in marbled palaces in a few thousand years time. When we had our new kitchen we chose not to use marble or granite but had a worktop made from recycled glass and resin a small and probably futile […]

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  15. Reblogged this on Sig Nordal and commented:
    The Apuan Alps close to Carrara contain the largest deposits of marble.

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