The Tuscan city of Carrara, and in particular the old town, is one of our favorite places in Italy. Many tourists visit only the famous Carrara marble quarries, and they are indeed worth visiting, but the town itself is unique and worth your attention. There are numerous historic and artistic attractions to be sure, but the main reason to visit is the sense of place that Carrara radiates. Undefinable, indescribable, yet unmistakable, there's a feeling that this place has identity and this place has character and that the inhabitants know it, love it, and are proud of it.
|The baroque Palazzo dei Conti del Medico. Piazza Alberico. 18th Century.|
|Column capitol with pillow.|
Piazza delle Erbe, Carrara.
Anarchists were leaders in organizing the stoneworkers into unions. This led to improved working conditions such as the 6 1/2 hour day for quarrymen beginning in 1911. The anarchist Ugo Del Papa founded a Camera del Lavoro to coordinate and advance unions in 1904 and was influential in the successful strike of 1913. Even more influencial was Alberto Meschi, one of the beloved figures in the history of Italian anarchy. There is an interesting large monument dedicated to him in the lovely park of Piazza Gramsci (Piazza d'Armi) by the sculptore Ezio Nelli (1965).
City of Michelangelo
|Old Carrara. Marble is used even in ordinary buildings.|
After reading Eric Scigliano's book Michelangelo's Mountain (click for his website - there's also an Amazon ad below to purchase) we can not only appreciate the sculptures more, but marvel that they exist at all. Mr.Scigliano's book describes in detail not only Michelangelo's involvement with Carrara, but the artist's life and career - masterpiece by masterpiece, as well as the milieu in which he lived. He describes nearly every aspect of the marble industry, both ancient and modern, and gives the reader a real appreciation of Michelangelo's determination to realize his vision no matter the obstacle.
|Michelangelo lived and worked for months in this building|
at the corner of Via Santa Maria and Piazza del Duomo.
Once the possibility of obtaining a block of a certain marble was settled, he had to babysit the quarrying of the marble. Since the work was carried out with hand tools, a good deal of waiting was involved. Once quarried, Michelangelo would rough out the sculpture, both to reduce the weight for transport and to ascertain that there were no hidden faults such discolored veins, mineral inclusions, or cracks. If there were, the process began again.
There is little physical evidence of Michelangelo Buonarroti's residence in Carrara, but he did leave his initials in a fascinating place. In the 1st century AD, a Roman quarry slave carved an aedicula - a shrine - in bas relief on a wall overlooking the Fantiscritti quarry. It consisted of three small figures, Hercules, Jupiter, and Bacchus. It was an object of prayer by workers for protection and good fortune, and it survived for centuries. There Michelangelo carved his characteristic 'MB', and began a graffiti tradition. Eventually Bernini, Canova, Giambologna, and scores of other sculptors added their names. Ultimately it gave the quarry its name: fanti, Carrarese dialect for infanti - the three small figures - and scritti for writing.
|A copy of the aedicula of Fantiscritti quarry.|
City of Marble Trucks
Today, the marble travels on the Strada dei Marmi di Carrara, a road designated exclusively for heavy truck traffic (in business hours) opened in April, 2012. It runs south of Carrara proper between the lower quarry area at Miseglia and the Via Aurelia (SS1), 5.5 kilometers away. It took 9 years to construct since it was necessary to remove a million cubic meters of earth and rock and construct 4.5 kilometers of roadway through 8 new tunnels. The Strada cost 120 million Euro, shared between regional and town government and the marble producers. Since the road is downhill for loaded vehicles, both with blocks and marble rubble, the trucks are electronically monitored to insure the 50kmph limit is observed.
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|An outdoor cafe, Piazza Alberica. Carrara hosts an International|
Biennial of Sculpture and numerous open air sculpture events.
* Calda-calda is a local name for the Ligurian specialty of farinata which the dour might describe as an unleavened pancake of chickpea flour. In old Carrara, go to Pizzeria Tognozzi at Via Santa Maria, 12, where they also offer calda-calda as a sandwich inside the Liguria specialty of focaccia....and you thought you were in Tuscany!