Thanks to HGTV’s Property Brothers and other home shows, Carrara marble is in right now, showing up in kitchen and bathroom remodels everywhere. Have you ever thought about where it comes from and how it is extracted? I hadn’t until our group visited the Carrara marble quarries.
Situated along the Carrione River, Carrara is a town that was originally built by the Romans to house workers in the nearby quarries. The Apuan Alps, where the marble is extracted, is located just up the windy road from town.
(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)
We had a behind-the-scenes look at the extraction process, and it was explained by our guide, Marco, a former worker in the quarry until his family sold it eight years ago. His father, Luigi, retired long ago; however, he still visits the quarry regularly, as it was his life before he sold the business. It was all he knew for 48 years of his life.
Carrara marble may be a luxury material, but the process to produce those beautiful countertops is far from luxurious. The work is hard, dangerous, dirty, and unhealthy. The quarries are the area’s only source of employment, though, so the workers accept the risks, including the high rate of silicosis and cancer from breathing in the dust and chemicals of the mines.
Speaking of marble dust, did you know it is used in toothpaste, shiny paper, cleaning products and even the Tums you take for an upset stomach? Check out the ingredients label on Tums; those tablets are made of calcium carbonate—marble dust!
Back to the business of mining marble, the quarries used to be owned by the locals; however, they are now owned by the Chinese and others from outside of Italy. Globalization of the industry has made it impossible for family businesses to compete, especially since the quarries are taxed 10% of the average value of the extracted marble, which is of varying qualities. The price per ton a quarry can sell their marble at ranges from $80 to $3,000 depending on the quality. When you think about the 15,000 tons of marble extracted on a daily basis and being exported, that’s a lot of money leaving Carrara.
What baffles me is the 15th-century rule, still in effect today, that stipulates that whoever finds marble in the mountains is entitled to keep the marble and establish a quarry on the premises, without having to pay taxes to the town or municipality. As a result, the quarry owners continue to get richer and richer, while none of the wealth generated by the quarries gets invested back into the town. This explains why Carrara is the poorest town in Italy!
Currently, 70,000 people live in Carrara, and only 1,000 of them work in the quarry, which used to be the second most important industry. In the past, the marble was worked from beginning to the finished product, but now, it is sold and exported after extraction. This has caused the extinction of the remaining industry and a high rate of unemployment. Verona, Italy is where the marble is worked now.
Following our tour of the marble quarry, our group of fifteen was divided up to visit three homes in Marina di Carrara for a home-hosted lunch. Bruce and I were assigned to Nadia Pailla’s home, along with Martha and Craig. Nadia didn’t speak English, so Annita served as our translator.
We were treated to a lovely home-cooked meal, as detailed in this menu:
It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know locals of Carrara, learn more about life in their town, and enjoy local cuisine. Our hosts got to know us as well! Nadia was curious about our families and how we liked Italy. She especially enjoyed the gifts we gave her. Martha and Craig had brought macadamia nuts from Hawaii where they live, and I gave Nadia some photo notecards I had made with photos I had taken in the U.S.A. Bruce had brought some fused glass earrings he had made, but neither Nadia or Annita had pierced ears. (We’ll bring necklace pendants next time we travel!)
Our time with them was so enjoyable, we didn’t want to leave. Nadia didn’t want us to go either, because when Ben called her to say he was coming soon to pick us up, she was sad. Hugs all around when we said, “Ciao!”
Upon our return to Lucca, Bruce and I set off to walk the perimeter walls—a 2.5-mile loop around the historic city center. Here are some photos of the views from the walking path atop the wall. More details to follow in my next post…
Next up: Lovely Lucca (Continued)