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The Marble Quarries of Carrara [Italy]
Illustrated London News Supplement Vol.XXI Oct. 2, 1852 pp. 289-290

Of the exhaustless and important quarries of Carrara, of which we here present a Sketch to our readers, so little is known in this country that a succinct account of their position, extent, and general character will doubtless prove interesting. The magnificent chain of mountains, a portion of which they occupy juts out in an acute angle from the Appenines, and forms a portion of the Duchy of Massa-Carrara. Nothing more picturesque or romantic can offer itself to the gaze of the traveller than the aspect of these stupendous and "marble-hearted" heights, as seen from the sea-shore, whence they are distant about four miles. Almost destitute of vegetation, they gleam in the sunlight like masses of brass, while at intervals rugged and inaccessible peaks cut sharply against the sky, and appear to pierce into the clouds. In numerous directions, about midway of the heights, the eye is attracted by what seems to be a vast torrent pouring down its resistless volume of seething water into the valley, but which is, in fact, the shoot of the refuse flung out of the quarry immediately above.



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On the flank of a few of the mountains, and near their base, some stunted vegetation, consisting for the greater part of dwarfed oaks and chesnut trees, may occasionally be seen; while nearer to the summit, in the fissures and galleys where no human foot can penetrate, a sickly and scanty herbage affords sustenance to troops of goats the patriarchs of the range. The  quarries are almost universally situated about midway of the mountain, and although said to have furnished the ancients with the material for building the Pantheon at Rome; and more recently to have supplied nearly every civilised country throughout the globe with their precious contents, to the extent of an export amounting annually to an average of 40,000 tons, the workmen are still employed upon the surface; and so little effect has the labour of centuries produced upon the general appearance of the mines, that they may be safely affirmed to be inexhaustible.

Of the export above named the United States consumes nearly the whole, the trade with that country being heavy and incessant. Italy, France, and England confine themselves almost entirely to the statuary marbles, of which they fully estimate the excellence ; while England, although rarely importing more than 6000 tons annually, is, nevertheless, steadily increasing its demand.Russia, whose rigorous climate peculiarly demands building materials able to resist its ungenial atmosphere, erects with the world-famed marbles of Carrara her majestic palaces and churchesThe recent reduction of the import duties, which were formerly very heavy in some countries, cannot fail to increase the demand throughout Europe. There is, however, still a heavy export duty, which has, moreover, most injudiciously been lately increased by the native Government.

The quarries of Carrara contain four varieties of marble, of which the most valuable is that used by sculptors, the white granularly foliated limestone. This has always been the favourite material both of the artists of ancient Greece and of modern Europe, in consequence of its purity of colour, its delicate transparency, and its granular texture, which renders it much more easy to work than compact limestone. The two great sources whence the statuary marble of Europe has been procured are Paros and Carrara. The Parian marble is the most pure, consisting almost entirely of carbonate of lime, and is, consequently, softer, somewhat more transparent, and of a more visibly laminated texture than that of Carrara, which is frequently mingled in considerable proportion with granular quartz. The latter has, however, no other rival as regards either quality or durability. The other three varieties obtained are "the veined" marble, equal as regards texture to that already described, but traversed by coloured lines which render it inappropriate to the chisel ; the " ravacioni' or Sicilian, similar to that produced near Messina; and the "bardiglio," which is of a deep blue colour, but in formation precisely similar to the white.

Some of the quarries may be explored with ease and safety, but such is by no means the case with all of them ; while, in every instance, the paths by which they are approached are full of peril to the uninitiated. At times almost perpendicular, the way leads along the brinks of stupendous precipices, where no path can be discerned, and the brain reels as the incautious glance seeks to penetrate the gloomy depths of the rocky fissures amid which it winds. The miners are a fine and hardy race, remarkable for their robustness of constitution, reckless courage, and unalterable good-humour ; nor do the fatal accidents which occasionally occur tend to lessen their gaiety : and many a snatch of wild but melodious song may be heard amid the clanging of hammers, the report of gunpowder, and the crash of falling stone. The workmen do not derive their supplies from the town of Carrara (which contains only about 8000 inhabitants, and is simply remarkable for the fountain in its principal square, which is surmounted by a colossal figure, attributed to Michael Angelo, but left in an unfinished state), the frugality by which they are distinguished enabling the surrounding villages where they reside to satisfy all their wants. Their hours of labour are from eight in the morning to two in the afternoon, all extra work being remunerated according to the time employed ; and thus they are enabled to pass a considerable portion of their days with their respective families There being no springs in the quarries, and the difficulty of ascent rendering it essential to the workmen to avoid all unnecessary burthens, they are reduced to drink rain-water, which they obtain by excavating square holes as reservoirs; their diet consists of polenta or bread, anti the common cheese of the country; and these simple aliments, with the fruits of the season compose their whole nourishment. In wine or coffee they never indulge; and yet the amount of labour of' which they are capable in many instances exceeds belief, as will be readily understood when the nature of their occupation is fully comprehended.

In working tile quarries, the huge blocks are first loosened from the mass by blasting, after which wedges are applied until they are thoroughly detached from the rock, when they are shaped into oblong squares-with tile exception of the statuary marble, of which the value is so great that the masses are removed intact-then lowered to the poggio, or base of the mountain, whence bullock-cars transport them to the Marina, where they are embarked. When the quarry is situated so perpendicularly that the stones incur risk of breakage from a too rapid descent they are securely surrounded by strong ropes. and placed upon two parallel beams (or lizzi) of oak, beneath which lesser beams are arranged transversely. A workman stands upon the block throughout its perilous transit, whose duty is to raise each of these so soon as it is passed, and to hand it to another mail in front, in order that it may again be placed securely upon the passage of the descending mass. This is the most dangerous service performed by the miners, as it occasionally happens that the huge block, after shivering for an instant upon its wooden support, yields to the impetus of its own weight, and sliding from its oaken cradle, rushes headlong down the declivity, rending the stout cables by which it is bound like whipcord, and crushing beneath its stupendous mass the unfortunate individuals employed in assisting its descent. Where the quarry is level, and nearer to the base of the mountain, the lizza is dispensed with, and the blocks are allowed to roll down unaided : this operation at times produces a most beautiful and thrilling spectacle, and one of so wild a nature, that no description could do it justice.

At the poggio (the real subject of our Retch) the blocks thus collected are loaded upon strong uncouth-looking bullock. cars, composed of three parallel beam, of oak, of which the centre one is rather lower than the others ; the animals are attached to the carriages in numbers proportioned to the bulk of the staffs and the impediments which encumber their path ; and the scene which ensues is one of the most extraordinary character. It is a very common occurrence to see ten yokes of oxen harnessed to one car, each guided by a driver, whose business it is to avoid as touch as possible the ponderous masses by which the ground is overstrown ; and yet, at the first glance, it is impossible to believe that they can ever hope to accomplish so arduous an undertaking. In vain do the sturdy and patient brutes strain to their task; unwieldy by nature, and only passively intelligent, the couples can seldom or never be compelled to follow the guidance of their leaders, who, by stumbling and straggling over the rocky fragments among which they are impelled by their drivers, partially level the path behind them, as they are now dragged by the horns, now goaded by the iron-shod staff, and now urged by the wild, half frantic cries of the men, whose shouts are re-echoed by the reeks in deafening dissonance ; but, swerving to the right or left, hew cut for themselves a new line of road frequently so impassable that, after having by a mighty effort overcome some apparently impracticable difficulty, the wretched animals stagger a few paces further, and then fall dead at their task. For this evil there exists no remedy, however; the nature of the ground and the constant deposits of stone rendering it impossible to construct a safer means of exit from the poggio. The exact extent of this marble range we are unable to state, beyond the fact that it embraces many square leagues; the most productive as well as the most valuable quarries being those of the statuary marble, which do not exceed twelve in all, the whole of which are the property of four or five of the principal families of Carrara ; but the aggregate number may be computed at 400, of which, between forty and fifty are in full work, and produce admirable stone ; while the number of workmen constantly employed varies from 2000 to 2500. Legends of gnomes and genii are rife among the miners, who, like their fellow-labourers in every land, are imaginative and superstitious; and in the quarry of Fantiscotti a number of names cut into the rock, and some roughly-carved figures hewn upon its surface, are objects of peculiar awe from the fact of their great antiquity, and the absence of all tradition regarding their origin.

From the extraordinary difficulties presented by the approaches to these remarkable quarries, they are seldom visited by the tourist; a fact which renders the spirited and singularly faithful Sketch which we now present to our readers one of unusual interest.



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