The town of Carrara is wedged and hid by a narrow valley, in front of the majestic scenery of the Apuan Alps, in northern Tuscany. Its mountains host the amazing white marble quarries, already known by the ancient Romans that used the precious material to built buildings and statues of all the Roman Empire.
Here is where Michelangelo Buonarroti and Antonio Canova came to select personally the marble blocks for their artworks.
When you arrive in northern Tuscany, passing through the motorway or coming by the sea, it’s impossible do not notice with astonishment the height of the Apuan Alps.
Carrara is the world capital for the mining, processing, and trading of white marble. The economy of the whole area revolves around the marble. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Carrara is not really popular among the mass tourism that usually visits the most famous cities such as Florence, Siena or the countryside of Val d’Orcia.
The town has been selected to join the Unesco Creative Cities Network in the creative field of Craft and Folk Art, at the frontline of UNESCO’s efforts to foster innovation and creativity as key drivers for a more sustainable and inclusive urban development.
When I was at primary school, my teacher Mrs. Emma told the class an ancient legend that reveals why Carrara has so much white marble. The legend says:
At the time of Creation, God gave his angels a task. They had to spread an entire bag of white dust all in an equal manner over the whole world. The angels assured God they would have followed his instructions but, while flying above Carrara, the bag fell and all its content dispersed on Carrara’s mountains.
A short history about the foundation of Carrara
The Apuani were an ancient tribe of shepherds and farmers settled in the mountains of this area. They used to reach the coastal area only for trading with Etruscans and probably with ancient Greeks.
During the Roman Empire expansion, the Apuani defeated the Roman troops many times, defending their settlements with bravery and exceptional strength. In the end, Romans gained the upper hand and the Apuani had been colonized. The founders of the city of Carrara were the Lunensi, the inhabitant of Lunae, a Roman settlement not far from the actual town. Lunensis were the descendant of the ancient Roman invaders who conquered the settlement inhabited by the Apuani tribe, who originally populated the surrounding mountains.
Lunensis lived in the current archeological site of Luni (where an amphitheater is still visible) when they have been attacked by Barbarians. To save their lives, some of them escaped and hid where the current city of Carrara is located.
Between the 15th to the 18th century, Carrara belonged to the Malaspina family. At that time they were the owners of the whole area of Lunigiana inclusive of the close city of Massa.
What to See and Where to Go Around Carrara
The historical town centre
The Old Town of Carrara lies near the stream Carrione. The downtown is a maze of narrow streets and alleys, with shops and internal squares, where you can find hidden marble art studios and nice corners adorned with flower pots by the inhabitants.
The colorful Piazza Alberica
Piazza Alberica is a beautiful square surrounded by Baroque Palazzi with the statue of Maria Beatrice D’Este on top of the fountain in the middle. The square, a symbol of the town, is also the main center for social life, and the place where people get relaxed drinking a glass of wine or socialize having an espresso.
The Duomo is dated back to 12th century, with a splendid two colors marble façade. The church is equipped with an extraordinary gothic rose window. The bell tower, dated in the 14th century, is similar to the typical Ligurian bell tower.
The Accademia delle Belle Arti
The Accademia delle Belle Arti is the hotbed of young artists who came from all over the world. Accademia started enrolling students for painting, sculpture, and architecture in 1757, thanks to Maria Teresa Cybo Malaspina, Duchess of Massa Carrara and Princess of Carrara. In 1810 Elisa Bonaparte donated the palace that today hosts the Accademia. The building was an ancient fortress dated back to 1187 and has a lovely Renaissance courtyard, where many student plaster works of the 19th century are exposed.
Do not miss one of the temporary art exhibits at Palazzo Cucchiari, a beautiful nineteenth-century residence with lovely frescoes on the walls, ceilings decorated with paper-mâché, sparkling marbles, and decorations in precious cypress wood.
The Museum of Marble
The museum of Marble collects the immense archeological heritage of Carrara, made by the ancient natural basins of marble extraction, an important marble collection, archeological evidences, and artistic statues made by artists from all the world who came in Carrara to choose their marble blocks and sculpt their work of art.
The marble quarries
The high mountains of the Apuan Alps host the white marble quarries. They are the heart of the town, always crowded with trucks, wheel loaders, and excavators, all in a unique lunar landscape. I suggest you visit the Galleria Ravaccione, a unique indoor quarry, and the Cava Museo (Quarry Museum). It is the result of 40 years of research made by Walter Danesi, the owner of a little but fundamental souvenir shop.
The village of Colonnata
Colonnata is a tiny village not too far from Carrara city centre, very known all over the world by many foodies for its famous Lardo di Colonnata, a delicious cured meat that you definitely have to taste. In town, you have also the chance to visit one of the “Larderie” and learn how the Lard is made.
The Marina of Carrara
Marina di Carrara is the coastal part of the town where locals use to go at the beach spending their summertime relaxing on a beach lounger in one of the many bath establishments.
The Tower of Castruccio Castracani of Avenza
Avenza is a district of Carrara, that lay along the Via Francigena. Its name probably comes from the Italian term “Avanzo” (Remains), intended as remains of the ancient city of Lunae, and some historians are sure that even before the end of the ancient Roman city, some people founded a settlement in this area. Instead some other historical think that the term comes from a common root of the word “water, brook”.
In Avenza is located the ancient Tower of Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli, Lord and duke of Lucca. This medieval stronghold is the remnant of an ancient castle that was in the center of the old village.
Events in Carrara
Every end of May an interesting event takes place in town, the Carrara Studi Aperti. During these two days, all studios open their doors to visitors that have the unique opportunity to see artists at work and talk to them admiring their artworks.
Another interesting event is Marble Week in July where artists decorate the square of the town with their best works.
Every end of August, for two weeks, the fair center in Marina di Carrara hosts the September Fest, one of the biggest beer festivals in the region that attracts thousands of locals and visitors to taste the typical beer and food of Bavaria.
Finally, in September, the historical center is the house of Con_Vivere, a festival full of events, music, street food, and panel discussions to reflect on the situation of the planet Earth, and the relationships between people and different cultures.