I came across these incredible photos in a book I found by chance while in Florence. Men climbing up the sheer face of marble cliffs on shaky looking, makeshift ladders. Massive blocks of freshly cut marble dropped on to quavering lorries as if they were sugar cubes stacked on toy trucks. I realised that until that moment I had never given it any thought quite how the massive slabs of marble I had admired as finished sculptures got “out of the mountain”. Suddenly marble seemed to be the topic of a lot of conversations so we decided to go and see a working quarry. Sunday being the best day to go unless you want to be crushed by these monster machines.
The drive up into the Apuan Alps was spectacular. The road was quite decent but I was glad to be in a little Fiat and not one of these trucks! The last section of the road was closed so we walked another 30min. or so. Blinding! That’s really the first impression as we turned the corner into the quarry. I have never seen that much marble in one place let alone outdoors in bright Italian sunlight. This blazing intensity of all the exposed stone was somehow heightened by the clear mountain air and sublime silence.
On entering the quarry your focus was immediately drawn to what the locals call “the cathedral” - an enormous rectangle of mountain that had been cut out at perfect right angles to leave this auditorium like space. It kind of reminded me of "The Wall" in Game of Thrones. Incomprehensible natural beauty but man made. We could actually see this big, rectangular chunk of missing mountain on the drive up. In the corner of the "cathedral” was this tiny, rusty cabin glued to the mountain face like a pulpit with metal rods just like the ones in the photographs leading up to it. That surely must be the craziest place to have a cup of tea if that’s what it was used for! Anyway, these lads probably don’t even drink tea. They surely function on grappa, gazole, cigarettes and nerves of steel.
The machinery was awesome and intimidating at the same time. The size of the diggers for starters but also the fact that everything that wasn’t marble was covered in this thick layer of marble dust. The whole scene reminded me of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie. Standing in the middle of it all really brought home the enormity of the task of getting these massive blocks out of there and down to some studio in Pietrasanta… how did Michelangelo cope without a Caterpillar or a Volvo ?
I have never experienced colour like I did in that quarry - the burning blue of the sky or the childish yellow of the machinery literally burned itself onto my retina. Colour held itself so beautifully against this living, primed canvas. Standing there in this white cloud of marble looking down over the soft green mountains that stretched towards the sea a silly notion popped into my head. I thought how strange it was that something so heavy could be so high up in the sky...
Take a look at these two videos to get a better feel for the marvel of marble