Phileas French

Travel Writer

Phileas French

Phileas French

Travel Writer | Exploring every country in the world, one adventure at a time

Cervaiole Marble Quarries

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A quarry trip might not be at the top of everybody’s wish list, but I was pretty much beside myself with excitement at the chance to visit the Cervaiole marble quarries during the Wish Versilia Blog Tour in Tuscany.

I’d studied the quarries during my last year at Oxford on the High Renaissance in Rome and Florence module, and ever since then they’d become rather fixed in my imagination. Founded in 1513, it was particularly enthralling to make the visit to the quarries during their 500th anniversary year.

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Even today, the winding minibus trip to get the quarries is really something, and I soon had fresh, first-hand empathy for Michelangelo’s exasperation at his assignment to the remote outpost rather than Carrara. Versilia was assigned to Florence during this part of the sixteenth century, and the Medici wanted to use this marble to make the façade of a church in Florence. They assigned the job to Michelangelo but it was much more difficult to excavate and transport marble from Cervaiole than Carrara. In 1518, they built a road from Forte dei Marmi, which translates as the rather lovely “Fortress of Marble”, to this quarry. In the end, Michelangelo didn’t use the marble for the San Lorenzo church façade. However, after the road was built, many other sculptors came to Cervaiole, for example Vasari.

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The quarry’s “statuario” marble is the most prized of the many diverse marbles that they quarry. Statuary marble is not pure white, instead resembling the colour of skin, due to oxidisation of iron.

The quarry’s marble has been responsible for many other masterpieces. It was used, for example, to entirely renovate Montecasino monastery, which was destroyed by the Allies (my Grandad French was at Montecasino fighting for the British). In the 1820s they manufactured 11,000 busts of Napoleon. Many modern contemporary artists come here to get pieces just as Michelangelo did.

We had a fantastic “backstage” tour of the quarries, allowing us to see just how much of a working enterprise it remains today, and to admire the courage of the men working up there with vertigo-inducing stairwells and sheer drops galore.

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After this inspiring experience, we enjoyed a great visit to the lust little village of Levigliani. With just three hundred inhabitants, mainly quarry men and their families, they are funded by the local caves and quarries. Whilst in Carrara the mountains are being damaged and taken away by marble quarrying, they are striving to create a more sustainable quarrying programme in the Apuan Alps. There are two museums worth visiting in Levigliani: Pietra Piegata, focused on the uses of fine local marble, and Lavorare Liberi, which documents the community history of mining and quarrying.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2018