More marble has been mined from the mountains of Carrara, Italy, than from any other location in the world. In the early days of the Roman Empire, marble for monuments and statues had to be imported from Greece or Turkey. Then, somewhere around 150 BC, the Romans discovered that they had the world’s finest marble, and it was right in their own back yard.
In the 23 centuries since then, the mountains of Carrara have produced more marble than any other location on earth. It has also produced the incredibly pure white marble most highly prized for fine sculpture. Michelangelo would come here to personally select the slabs for his statues.
Although it may be famous, Carrara is not a major tourist destination. These are working quarries a short distance from a small town, and most people are not that interested in seeing them firsthand. In fact, we would not have scheduled a tour here except for the fact that we saw the mountains 5 years ago while driving to another destination, and were captivated when we discovered it was not snow, but pure white rock that gave them their surreal glow.
We flew from Paris to Pisa and took the train to Carrara for the sole purpose of getting a personal guided tour of the marble fields. Fortunately, we found the perfect guide through Rick Steves. Stefania’s grandfather worked in the mine, and her father vowed that he would not. Born in Switzerland and educated in London, and now returning to live in her ancestral town, Stefania is fluent in English, Italian, and French. And here excitement about the mining operation was palpable. For three hours she regaled us with details that few know, and with a personal connection that made it come alive. Meanwhile driver George piloted our Land Rover expertly in and among the mining vehicles. Twice we actually drove into the underground operations and watched the operations unfold before us, in caverns whose roof, walls, and floor were native marble.
As you can see by the pictures, it is an unusual place. On our whole trip, I highlighted about a dozen days that were “magical.” This was one of those.