It felt so good to be sleeping in a big bed, have room to move around, and a shower not only big enough to turn around in, but made of marble. My hotel is beautiful and quite a contrast to the simple convent accommodations I had in Rome. I already love being in this little town of Carrara, and I have been speaking Italian to locals walking their dogs or strolling in the piazza. Everyone is very friendly and happy to take the time to talk. They seem fascinated by the fact that an American is in their town.
I finally had the luxury of using a laundromat today, and now have clean clothes. Somehow they just don’t seem to get as clean when you wash them by hand.
At 11am Gianni picked me up at my hotel to drive me to the marble quarries. He spoke English, explaining that everyone here has to take English in school, so most young people here speak English fairly well.
Once we got as far up the mountain as we could go in his car, we were met by his friend, who runs carraramarbletour.it. He drove us the rest of the way to the top of the Fantascritti quarries, at 6000 feet above sea level. The S-bends in the road are not for the faint of heart.
I was completely blown away by the enormity of this area. I had no idea just how huge these mountains of marble were. When you are here, there is no question of ever depleting the marble supply of Carrara. This is the largest quarry of white marble in the world, and the actual place where Michelangelo obtained the marble to sculpt his famous David. We only saw one of the three basins, and supposedly the other two are wider. I was told that there are 20 km of marble in these mountains and that it even goes deep beneath the sea here. Incredible!
These are operating quarries, and the process is an awesome sight to watch and very labor intensive. It is understandable why the price of marble is so high, although the pay for the 200 or so quarrymen working in each basin is not considered to be that good.
After touring the quarries I toured one of the caves, where the marble is extracted from the interior of the mine. We rode in a jeep almost half a mile to the middle of the cave, and at that point we were about a quarter mile beneath the surface. Carrara owns the mountains and allows corporations and individual owners to operate quarries, for which they must pay a fee, based on weight of marble extracted from the mines. In addition they must comply with the Italian governmental safety regulations or risk losing their ability to operate.
The car chase scene in the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace was filmed here, and Gianni told me that the quarries were closed for two months to film the ten-minute scene. Can you imagine what that cost the filmmakers? When you see these roads, it is clear why stunt drivers are paid so well!