There is no end to demand for ‘Italy’s white gold.’
For many people, that white gold is not metal but marble from the town of Carrara in Tuscany. The marble mining work in Carrara is ancient. Workers first began removing stone from the mountains of Tuscany more than 2,000 years ago.
The ancient Romans were the first to recognize the beauty of the marble. Millions of people still go to Rome to see famous monuments made with the stone. Two examples are the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column. And then there are famous statues like the David and the Pietà by the sculptor and painter Michelangelo.
So what is happening in Carrara today?
A visit to modern day Carrara
Sculptors, other artists and designers of buildings have never stopped making trips to the Tuscan town.
M.J. Anderson, an American, first visited Carrara 36 years ago, when she started creating sculptures. She loved the look of the beautiful stone.
Anderson says she likes to take things apart. “The great thing about carving marble is that once that stone is gone, it’s gone. You can’t lament about it and this keeps you moving forward in the creative process," she said.
Sculptors like Anderson know they are dealing with something very special.
“There’s no surprises when you are carving it. The molecules are put together very well and there’s so many different kinds of marble here. That's what’s so special.”
That is what is bringing in orders and big money from all over the world. Carrara’s marble is in great demand in the Arab world and in countries like China, India and Thailand. Buyers want the material to use in the rooms and floors of their homes. Others want art made of the stone. For example, a few years ago, a request came for a huge block of marble to be used in a massive statue of Buddha.
An increase in the building of mosques and Islamic centers, especially in the Arab world, has meant even more demand and big business for some marble companies.
The Saudi Binladin Group, one of the world's largest builders, got control of 50 percent of Marmi Carrara in recent years. Marmi Carrara owns a third of the marble quarries that are operational in the area today.
“Just the name Carrara basically says it’s the world’s best marble. It is the most beautiful. It has a centuries’ long history of being the best marble in the world and people come here looking for and wanting the very best,” Anderson said.
Current demand and environmental concerns
What is new is that the demand is moving away from the traditional markets.
Anderson noted that for a long time, Italy’s white gold has been shipped to American buyers. Now, she said, the buyers are from the Middle East, and they are the ones taking the marble. Ever since the days of ancient Rome, the stone has been shipped to other areas.
The great marble artists have historically been Italian, but now they come from all over world, and some have settled in Carrara. Students like 19-year old Xintong Gao come to learn and take their knowledge home. He said his love of art, painting, and sculpture brought him here from China and he set his sights on studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara.
Working on the marble may be a labor of love, but it is no easy work, Gao noted.
Learning to carve the marble is not the only difficulty. Removing the stone from the mountains has been a problem for hundreds of years. Modern technology has made it easier. The marble industry employs thousands of people. For those who labor inside the mountains, it is sometimes dangerous work.
The marble mining is also affecting the countryside.
Environmentalists have been expressing concerns for years that the industry is destroying the mountains and affecting the appearance of the Apuan Alps. From far away, they appear to be covered in snow. But in reality, it is the bright marble that makes the Apuan Alps white all year round.
“It’s beautiful to see the quarries. … They’re fabulous, the way the light hits these walls of marble,” said Anderson.
Admittedly, she notes, the environmentalists are right to be concerned. “Of course, marble does not re-grow. It’s not sustainable. It was made billions of years ago. …. Marble is being taken out of here so fast that entire mountain tops are disappearing," she said.
I’m Dorothy Gundy.
Sabrina Castelfranco wrote this story for VOANews.com. George Grow adapted her report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
carve – v. to cut
lament – v. to mourn
quarry – n. places where miners remove from the ground
fabulous – adj. very good
sustainable – adj. harvesting something like a crop so that it is not permanently damaged
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