Visit the Michelangelo Marble Quarries in Carrara

The interest in the most extraordinary Carrara marble quarries is growing, with tours searching for the Michelangelo marble so white. But also for the lard, the local “candid” ham, and the wine that always accompanies it in the trattorias. Cultures and uses, stories of marble excavation, and industrial archeology have their roots in ancient times and pass from the great Michelangelo, who spent much of his time here searching for inspiration and beauty.

Imagine the autumn of 1497 if you can. Michelangelo Buonarroti is 22 and has just been commissioned nothing less than the Pietà by the French Cardinal Bilhères Lagraulas. So he gets to Carrara riding a gray horse and visits the Polvaccio Quarry. Here, Michelangelo commissions a load of local marble from the stonecutter Matteo Cuccarello. The artisan undertakes to deliver promptly, even though the season is about to get prohibitive to work in the quarry.

A few months later, the material is so late that the Bishop writes the Malaspina Marquis to solicit the delivery. Although not much is known, the impediment is likely due precisely to a gabelle that the Lunigiana feudatory imposes on extracting the precious material.

The Malaspinian fortress in Massa, from where Michelangelo searched for marble

What is happening around Michelangelo? The alternate fortunes of the little Massa Marquisate. 

To picture the 16th-century Carrara, we need to know about the fief of Massa, dominated by the magnificent Malaspina Fortress.

Three years before Michelangelo’s passage, in 1494Charles VIII is named a knight within the walls of the sumptuous castle.

That same yearRicciarda Malaspina is born in the fortress, the only daughter of the sovereign. Despite being a woman, she will be the Marquise of Massa, Lordship of Carrara, Moneta, and Avenza, and an essential Tuscan emissary in Rome.

Six years after the artist’s visit, in 1500, Jean de Beaumont, sent by the French to help Florence fight against Pisa, is passing by Massa. So, incidentally, he takes the chance to confiscate Massa and other territories to Alberico and hand them over to his uncle Gabriele II Malaspina, Alberico’s archenemy.

That’s how the Malaspina family members alternate their ruling on Massa and Carrara’s small, strategic territory

The majestic mountains overlook the human events, silently eternal, holding their white stone treasure, the crude wonder in which Michelangelo can envision his dramatic art

The imposing mountains overlook Massa and its castle.

The artist’s visits to Carrara mark his course, maturation, and knowledge. Working with the Carrara quarrymen, getting to know their life of sacrifice and danger, and with the local stonemasons, experts in marble working, Michelangelo learns a great deal. And indeed, his visits are welcome, as his patrons pay no heed.

It is 1505, and Michelangelo must carry out his most painful, often modified work, the funeral monument to Pope Julius II. For this outstanding work of art, Michelangelo sketches on marble for the first time and later turns to some boat owners in Avenza for transport to Rome.

The inscription recalls Michelangelo’s visits to the Carrara Marble Quarries.

It’s 1516, and Michelangelo still needs to complete the complex sepulchral work. The new Pontiff, Leo X, insists on using the quarries of Pietrasanta in lower Tuscany. Being a member of the Medici family, he wants to assign the job to the Medici city to gain the resultant gabelles.

But Michelangelo does not leave Carrara.

His stubbornness and notoriously rebellious and tormented spirit must find a breeding ground among the quarrymen, who forge their traditional anarchic spirit in their mountains and hard work. The thirty-year relationship with the city of marble was troubled, full of quarrels, but also mutual recognition and passion.

The Fantiscritti stone with Michelangelo’s Signature

Michelangelo eventually takes up residence in Carrara and even funds a company with Leonardo Cagione, a quarryman, to excavate and earn from marble supplies for the commissioners. The business runs smoothly until irreparable disagreements regarding delivery times happen. Also, because of the tense relationship with reigning Alberico, Michelangelo turns to the Versilian quarries. Not for long, as the Pietrasanta’s quarries are new, and workers are inexperienced compared to the Carraresi.

Of 1525 is one of the last testimonies of the artist’s presence in Massa. It’s the year of Michelangelo’s signature in the Fantiscritti quarry, bearing witness to his presence close to the marble workers and the stone.

In July 2017, street art appeares in the quarry, celebrating Michelangelo. 

The street artist Eduardo Kobra realized in 4 days, in July 2017, an extraordinary mural in the Carrara Marble Quarries. The imposing 10 meters high drawing depicts Michelangelo’s David and symbolizes the return to the origin of art