Carrara marble has a long and illustrious history. The Romans used the coveted stone from the Apuan Alps to build the Pantheon. Some 1400 years later, Michelangelo used it to create the iconic statue of David.
From the quarry at 1000 metres, you will see the Tyrrhenian sea in the distance.
From Pisa you can easily travel north to see the quarries. It makes for an unforgettable day trip. There are a number of companies that run guided tours. Here are two that depart from central Pisa:
You’ll be driven up the winding mountain roads in a 4×4, learning about the history of Carrara. Once you reach the quarry, at around 1000 metres, a local expert will tell you about the geology of the area and the historical methods used to extract marble. You’ll then learn about how the methods have modernised, and even see the workers in action.
Some tours also include a tasting of a local specialty, lardo di Colonnata, which is pork aged in a marble basin.
Tips for the tour
Take sunglasses, even on a cloudy day. The light that reflects off of the white marble is dazzling.
Wear secure shoes that you don’t mind getting a little dirty.
There is a great sense of history and continuity in the marble industry. Excavation rights remain in families for generations, passed down from father to son. But much of the area is now protected by UNESCO in the interest of preserving the natural wonder. Your guide will tell you about how this is changing the industry.
The marble from these quarries has been transported to all corners of the globe and used in some of its most prominent architecture. All of these buildings used Carrara marble:
Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Pantheon, Rome, Italy
Michelangelo’s Pietà, St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Parliament House in Canberra, Australia
Marble Arch, London, United Kingdom
Oslo Opera House, Norway
Did you know…?
Beyond art and architectural marvels, marble has a more humble application. Carrara marble dust is gathered from the quarries, processed, and added to our toothpaste and yoghurts for calcium!