Friday, May 29, 2020

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Fascination marble


Marble – the stone and its history

We now come to the history of marble. Over the centuries, much has been reported and written about fine marble and its fascinating radiance, as well as about its extraction on the ground and the many ways of processing it. This is understandable when one considers that the marble industry is known as the oldest industry still in existence today.

This is undeniable, since marble can look back at a chequered history stretching back over 2,000 years. However, marble was not delivered at the same intensity throughout, since wars interrupted peace, poverty followed wealth, and even fashion trends influenced the popularity of marble, whether that was in terms of its colour or even its provenance.

One thing is certain: Over the centuries, extraction was driven forward with varying levels of intensity at each marble deposit, but it was never completely stopped.

It is important to mention the most important point here. The knowledge of marble, its delivery, its processing and transportation was constantly passed on by the stone-breakers, sawyers, stonemasons, polishers, ornamentalists and carvers. They handed down their knowledge from generation to generation, from father to son, even within the village community, so that centuries of experience was never lost, even during periods of low demand.

The Greeks were the first to break and process the unique natural stone of marble, which was then reserved for rich people and the construction of temples and, when used correctly, maintained its beauty for centuries.

The accuracy of this statement is proved by archaeological excavations of ancient cities and temples. Statues of Greek and Roman gods: Zeus – Jupiter, Aphrodite – Venus, Artemis – Diana, Demeter – Ceres, Hermes – Mercury, Athena – Minerva, Hera – Juno etc. to name just a few. Everyday objects, houses, temples and even entire boulevards made from marble were unearthed in all their unique beauty, just as Aphrodisias and Ephesus would have seen then, for example.


In all eras of pageantry, splendour and wealth, marble was a public symbol of riches and of power.

Around one hundred years before our calendar begins, in the heyday of Roman culture, Greek white marble was replaced by that from the Apuan Alps. The Luni branch was founded at this time.

If one travels from Carrara along the Via Aurelia, in a northerly direction towards Sarzana, then turns off towards the sea, just a few hundred metres into the plain, surrounded by fields, meadows and vineyards, one stumbles across ruins including an amphitheatre, a few houses, granaries and streets, floor plans of temples, and the sparse remains of a cathedral from the High Middle Ages, as well as a very interesting museum. Because the sea was around two kilometres further inland at that time, remains of a port, at which rowing boats and sailing ships were loaded with marble and agricultural products for transportation, can be found right here at the former mouth of the Magra river. Cheese from this region has adopted the crescent moon as its identifier or trademark: moon is luna in Italian, giving its name to Luni.

This white Marmi du Luni from the Apuan Alps now began increasingly to displace that from Greece. Throughout the entire Mediterranean region, unique temple complexes, tombstones, statues and splendid palaces were created from this fine material. Relics of this period in Rome include the Pantheon (built by Agrippa in 26 BC), the Pyramid of Cestius, the Temple of Apollo Palatinus, the Concordia Temple, the Trajan’s Forum, the Trajan’s Column and the magnificent Arch of Titus, to name just a few. These historic buildings were all erected in the first 150 years AD.

Excavations in the Roman city of Pompeii, buried under ash following the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, show us that the unpleasant habit of drawing on facades, doorways, statues and friezes was widespread even then. Today’s equivalent are known as graffiti artists.

The archaeologists carrying out the excavation found writing on house walls including election campaign slogans, attractive special offers, promises to recover stolen valuables for a reward, and offensive language. One man complained that, although he did have a Venus, she was only made of marble.


Marble from Luni was the most commonly used form between the Roman emperors Vespasian (69–79) and Commodus (180–192). It was not until the reign of Emperor Septimus Severus (193–211) that marble from Greece began to regain significance, and a movement back towards Greek culture grew up.

As the mighty Imperium Romanum (Roman Empire), which had enjoyed its greatest period of expansion under Emperor Trajan (98–117), slowly came to an end, funds for constructing housing and cities also became tight and, in particular, there was no more money for exclusive buildings made from expensive marble. When the three-storey Arch of Constantine was built in 315 to honour Emperor Constantine the Great (306–337), the builders used some second-hand marble, i.e. older reliefs from the reigns of previous Emperors were reused. It was clear that this economic development would also have far-reaching consequences for the marble industry in Luni. The town of Luni was forgotten.

Later, a new settlement grew up not far away, and was first named Luni Nova, and then Sergiana. The town became an episcopal seat in 1204. Sarzana (as it is called today) is the birthplace of Tommaso Parentucelli (1397), who became Pope in 1447. Nicholas V is considered the first Renaissance Pope (until 1455). He crowned Emperor Friedrich III in 1452, lived through the Turks conquering Constantinople in 1453 and founded the Vatican Library. Sarzana is home to a cathedral built from white marble – an outstanding example of the Gothic architecture of the mid-14th Century.

Even in the Middle Ages, i.e. the period after antiquity, marble delivery in the quarries of the Apuan Alps was not entirely stopped, although it now almost exclusively served the towns in the immediate vicinity and the church. It was not until the downfall of the Middle Ages at the start of the 15th Century that marble enjoyed a revival; the beautiful stone with its unique and aristocratic character was in demand once again.

In the meantime, however, the good Roman roads had fallen into disrepair and it had become impossible to transport the blocks, some weighing many tonnes, over land. Only the town of Carrara, with the little Carrione river, had a small port with suitable loading options for blocks, slabs, columns and statues. Marble from Carrara, as it was now known, could be exported once again. The marble industry in the Apuan Alps finally enjoyed a revival again, and export to ever further-flung cities in Italy and Europe followed.

From the 14th Century onwards, quarries in Versilis, Garfagnana and Seravezza grew up in addition to those around Carrara.

The artist and sculptor Michaelangelo himself came to Carrara time and again, staying in a house near the cathedral, to choose blocks for his magnificent sculptures. “I can see them, they are already in the mountain, I just have to get them out,” he apparently once said. It was later disproved that his marble came from the mountain of Altissimo, above Pietrasanta in the Alta Versilia. Michelangelo apparently took the statuario (statue marble) for this unique and entrancing works from the quarries between Torano and Gioia, near Carrara. The block for David, which stands in Florence, came from Colonnata.

The marble deposits and basins in the Triassic limestones and dolomites stretch throughout almost the entire Apuan Alps region. The purity, colouring, pattern etc., as well as the locality and above all the reality of transporting the marble, were decisive when it came to extraction.

It was not until the 17th Century that quarries were opened and marble successfully extracted in the mountains around Massa. And since the 19th Century, marble from the Apuan Alps has conquered the world with its fascinating beauty.

Find out more about mining and transportation

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May 29, 2020
2:00:00 PM CEST