It was the Greeks who first called it marble, which means ‘shining stone‘, and if you go climbing in the mountains around Carrara, you will realise that never has a name seemed more appropriate: at 900m above sea level, the white gold of the Apuane Alps shines with its own light.
We are in the Polvaccio Basin, the quarry which has been known since Roman times and was even mentioned by Pliny. It is where the marble for Trajan’s Column in Rome was quarried. This is where Michelangelo chose the blocks of marble for the Tomb of Pope Julius II and for his masterpiece the Pietà, and even today, international artists such as Jan Fabre and Maurizio Cattelan come up here, attracted not only by the charm of tradition but by the extremely high quality marble, the best in the world for sculpture.
The history of the Polvaccio quarry began around the first century BC, during the period of the Roman Republic. During that period of time, marble was exported from the port city of Luna (today known as Luni) to every city on the Mediterranean. Polvaccio is the most famous of the quarries of the area due to the quality of the marble extracted here.
Franco Barattini, the owner of the Michelangelo quarries, who has now created a small empire over the last 60 years, started at 12 years old as a handyman. Barattini’s story is not a fairy tale, but a parable of hard work and passion. “I started to work straight after elementary school, I loved nature and went to the quarries even though my father wasn’t very happy about it because people would often lose an arm or a leg in the quarries. There were a lot of accidents.” Barattini told us that he has done all of the jobs associated with marble extraction. “At the beginning I worked as a bagascio, which is like the cabin boy on a ship, but I also cut the blocks and even had the job of hanging from a rope and cleaning the mountainside after it had been cut out”.
New levels of excavation are currently being opened to ensure the continued production of statues and white marble products.