Carrara Marble Quarry: how to visit the quarries by yourself or with guided tours

carrara marble quarry

When you think of Carrara, your mind immediately goes to the Carrara marble quarry.

Carrara marble quarries are huge white wounds that open along the sides of the Apuan Alps: a fascinating orographic complex that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015.

A unique territory, a succession of changing and fascinating landscapes, dominated by the mountain profiles of the marble basins, which have marked the fortune of this place.

Visiting a Carrara marble quarry will allow you to retrace centuries of history and discover a world made of hard work, effort and spectacular beauty.

Visiting a Carrara marble quarry

how to visit carrara marble quarries

A Carrara marble quarry visit represents an unrepeatable journey inside suggestive tunnels dug into the rock, from which you access the dazzling whiteness of the quarry, a place where the famous marble has been extracted since Roman times and became famous throughout the world.

You can visit a Carrara marble quarry by yourself or by relying on organized tours, which will guide you in the exploration of the wonderful basins of Torano, Fantiscritti and Colonnata.

In the first case, moving by car or motorbike, you can visit the marble basins and admire the mining panorama retracing the route of the former “Marmifera” railway.

If you choose a Carrara marble quarry tour, you can contact the various operators who organize visits to the Carrara marble quarry, by choosing among different possibilities: from guided tours in jeeps to creative sculpture courses, from trekking routes to aperitifs at sunset in a wonderful Carrara marble quarry location.

Visiting a Carrara marble quarry on your own

visiting carrara marble quarries on my own panorama

If you want to visit a Carrara marble quarry as an independent traveler, our advice is to reach the city of Carrara by car or motorbike and from there head towards the marble basins of Colonnata, Fantiscritti and Torano.

A spectacular route awaits you, made up of breathtaking views of the quarries and the coast, an itinerary dotted with valleys (such as the Miseglia valley), characteristic villages such as Torano and Colonnata, tunnels dug into the rock, enormous bridges (Ponti di Vara), the so called “Museum quarries” (Carrara marble quarry museum such as Cava Museo Fantiscritti and Cava Galleria Ravaccione), walking routes, such as the one that leads to the locality of Campocecina, with the panoramic open space where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the Lunigiana, the marble quarries and the coast.

Alternatively, from Carrara it is also possible to reach the Carrara marble quarry by taxi. Or, to visit the quaint town of Colonnata, you can take advantage of a convenient bus service that will take you to your destination in 15-20 minutes.

Finally, for hikers and trekking lovers, the Apuan Alps offer a myriad of paths which will give you beautiful panoramic views and exciting experiences.

Carrara marble quarry tour

carrara marble quarry tour

You can make your visit to the Carrara marble quarry unforgettable by relying on an organized Carrara marble quarry tour that will take you on a spectacular journey to discover the marble basins of Colonnata, Torano and Fantiscritti, their history, the neighboring villages and the life of the quarrymen, people who have devoted their existence to this unique territory.

On board a Jeep or minivan you can access the Carrara marble quarry from which the precious Carrara marbles are extracted. An experienced guide will provide you with explanations on the methods of extraction and transport of marble, from Roman times to the present day.

It will be a great opportunity to also savor the food and wine excellences of the area. Unmissable a stop at one of the famous “Larderie” di Colonnata, where you can learn about the processing of “lardo”, an ancient cured meat so dear to quarrymen.

OPERATORS WHO ORGANIZE GUIDED TOURS TO THE MARBLE QUARRIES
Carrara Marble Tour
Cave di Marmo Tours – powered by Il Tau Guide Turistiche
Caveinfuoristrada.it – powered by Quarries Off-Road by Paolo Maggiani
C T Tours by Umberto Cattani
Carrara Sight & Seeing – by Il Tau Tour Operator sas

History of Carrara marble quarries

history of carrara marble quarries

The history of marble quarries is ancient and fascinating. According to historical sources, the excavation of the marble deposits dates back to Roman times (155 BC). Many famous monuments of ancient Rome were built using Carrara white marble: the Pantheon, the Pyramid of Cestius, the Arch of Claudius, the Trajan’s Column, the Arch of Domitia, just to name a few.

From the Romans onwards, Carrara white marble has become famous and has been celebrated in every era of the history of Italian art. Many important Christian buildings have been embellished with precious marble decorations: the Baptistery of Florence, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Basilicas of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, the Cathedral and Baptistery of Pisa and the Cathedral of Siena.

The greatest sculptors and architects personally went to the Carrara marble quarry to choose the statuary marbles; among them Nicola Pisano and, later, Michelangelo Buonarotti, who created some of his masterpieces with Carrara white marble (the Tomb of Pope Julius II and the Pietà).

Over the span of two millennia, the marble extraction process in the Carrara marble quarry has undergone numerous changes. Until the sixteenth century, the methods of excavation remained almost unchanged (the banks were detached by fracture). Subsequently, we moved on to the use of explosive mines. The use of mines lasted until 1800: it was a quick and cheap method but, on the other hand, it caused serious damage to the environment as well as a great waste of material.

In 1895, the helical wire was experimented and successfully introduced in almost all quarries, then replaced in the 1970s by the diamond wire.
With this technology the crushing of blocks is avoided, the number of debris is reduced and the quarry is kept efficient.

As far as the transport system is concerned, from the time of the Romans until a few decades ago the spectacular “lizzatura” technique was practiced, which allowed the movement of blocks from the fronts at high altitude to the quarry yards. The technique used a group of quarrymen who placed the block (or blocks) on wooden beams, called “lizze”.

The marble was then harnessed and secured with the use of lubricated ropes to the so-called “piri”, circular wooden poles planted in the ground on which all the weight of the blocks to be moved rested. The lizzatura could last several hours and required physical strength, resistance, calculation ability, and great craftsmanship (being part of a lizzatura company was considered an honor).

Between 1876 and 1964, the marble blocks from the Carrara marble quarry were also transported by rail using the “Marmifera” railway, which had several stations at the most important quarries.

The blocks departed from the stations of Colonnata, Gioia, Calaggio, Ravaccione, Fantiscritti, Tarnone and first reached the historic center of Carrara and then the places closest to the sea, where the blocks were sorted to the factories on the coast or embarked at the harbor.

Today, technology in quarries has made great progress: cutting-edge tools and processing systems have largely integrated or replaced the work of man.

Currently, modern heavy vehicles are used to remove and move the marble blocks: winches, bull-dozers and cranes allow the banks to be overturned, lifted and transported to the Carrara marble quarry yard.

For lovers of historical re-enactments, we remind you that the ancient method of lizzatura relives every year thanks to the historical re-enactment carried out by the Compagnia dei Lizzatori of Carrara which, in August, attracts the curiosity of hundreds of enthusiasts.

Carrara marble quarries nowadays

carrara marble quarries nowadays

In the Apuan city of quarries par excellence, the marble field has always been the pillar of the city’s economy.

With 165 active quarries, Carrara marble is a unique product, appreciated all over the world and used for multiple uses, ranging from art to construction, from furniture to use in the industrial field.

We can divide the marble extracted from the Carrara marble quarry into five groups, each with different chromatic and structural characteristics:

  • White marbles
  • Gray and veined marbles (gray, veined, zebrino)
  • Brecciated marbles (arabescato, calacatta)
  • Cipollino marbles
  • Historical marbles (rosso rubino, nero di Colonnata)

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