Carrara marble

DEFINITION

A famous kind of marble, known for its purity and named for the Carrara district of about 500 quarries in Italy near the towns of Apuania and Carrara. However, this high-quality marble is only about ten percent of the stone excavated, and the lesser-quality material is widely in demand for tombstones, building exteriors, pavement, etc. The quarries lie in the mountains above the town of Carrara. From a description provided in the late 19th-century, when many American sculptors were living nearby and using the marble, it is learned that the marble was quarried by dynamite, which created fragments. Then thousands of workmen, suspended by ropes, cut the fragments into blocks, which were hauled by oxen-drawn wagons to a railway that took them into the town of Carrara. There several thousand workmen refined the marble for the many sculptors, working from studios in Carrara, and for transport to other destinations such as the American sculptors??? colony in Florence that included Hiram Powers, his sons Preston Powers and Longworth Powers, Thomas Ball, Daniel Chester French, Joel Hart and William Couper. The origins of Carrara Marble go back millions of years when the region was covered by water, which left a deep limestone bed from the layers of many dead organisms when the water receded. Heat and pressure then formed mountains, which condensed the limestone into hard crystalline rock of which the purist is white Seravezza, used extensively by ancient Romans. However, with the collapse of the Roman Empire, the quarries ceased to be used until the eleventh century when townspeople such as the Pisans were building cathedrals. Carrara is especially associated with the sculpture of Michelangelo in the 15th century during the Italian Renaissance. Today the quarries of Carrara are still used, although large-scale dynamiting has been replaced by more controlled methods of drilling holes along excavation lines, inserting wooden plugs that fill with water, expand and form cracks. Metal wedges are inserted into the cracks to ply the blocks loose. Then a small bit of dynamiting moves the blocks to a position where they can be sliced by a special wire into desired shapes. Marble has grain, similar to meat, and must be carved by the dictates of the grain. Trucks carry the marble to the town of Carrara or to nearby beaches for loading onto ships. As a result of the intense quarrying activity, ???remnants of marble dust and stone fragments covered the hillsides like snow and caused the rivers to resemble milk. The workers walked the streets like apparitions, painted white by the dust.??? (71) Today Carrara remains the largest center for the processing of marble, and seventy percent of the exported marble in the world is shipped from its port. The supply is thought to be ???endless??? and the marble quality remains constant, with newly-quarried marble easily matched to marble quarried many years earlier, thus facilitating repairs and replacement to damaged areas in buildings or sculptures made from Carrara Marble. Source: Greta Elena Couper, ???An American Sculptor on the Grand Tour???.

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