Winter is long here, and although we are all busy bees, what with one thing and another, the time comes when we are positively aching for some cheery spring weather, and the chance to get away and have a change of scenery. Not that ours isn’t beautiful – because it is, but we live here all year long, and too much of anything can get a smite tiresome after a while! So, as soon as the first rays of warm sun begin to drive away the chill of winter, people hop on their motorbikes, or climb into their cars, and head out in search of alternative panoramas.
This has been happening these last few days, thanks to the Easter holidays, and luckily for us, Bedonia is an excellent starting point for a lot of nearby places that are really worth visiting.
Fancy a trip to the coast? Why not indeed – a breath of stimulating salty air does wonders to our still-hibernating organisms, and all it takes is a little more than an hour to get to Liguria, where you can admire the characteristic, colourful fishing towns perched on cliffs, in which time seems to have stood still. Sea on one side and mountains on the other – and talking of mountains, if you venture a little further down the coast you will find yourself in Tuscany, which physically speaking, is very similar to its northern neighbour Liguria – the same lovely sea and shrub-covered mountains rising almost out of it. But you will notice how the mountains shine a brilliant white from the glaciers at their peaks – until you come to the realisation that the summits are not tall enough to support glaciers this far south. This is Carrara, the land of Italy’s white gold – marble – and the Apuan Alps, which are actually part of the Apennines, are made of it.
This pristine and fine-grained material, often enriched by grey, silvery streaks, was born hundreds of millions of years ago in total darkness. Gravity slowly compressed layer upon layer of tiny dead creatures which had drifted to the bottom of an ancient sea, locking them tightly together until they petrified into the white crystals we now call marble. In Italian it is called “Marmo” – a soft, rounded word which describes a hard and heavy substance. In later eras, tectonic movements resulted in the formation of a great spine of mountains in southern Europe, when the prehistoric sea floor rose, taking the petrified creatures with it, in some places to as much as 6,000 feet.
This white gold generously offered by nature was greatly appreciated by the ancient Romans, in fact documents attest that the marble used to construct Rome’s “Foro Imperiale” was obtained from Carrara’s quarries. It has given life to numerous works of art all over the world, but the ones that come immediately to mind are Michelangelo’s masterpieces; Mosè, La Pietà, and his breathtaking David, all carved from this fine, butter-like stone, all unforgettable. The Maestro would go to the quarries and personally select the blocks of stone for each sculpture, and he was said to have declared that each figure was already inside the block of marble, simply waiting to be brought to light and unveiled – by him.
The quarries have always been a focal point for the area, since they attract tourism and bring wealth and work to the local population. It is currently possible to visit them with specific guided tours for the more adventurous, but for those who opt for a safer itinerary, Carrara’s “Museo Civico del Marmo” (civic marble museum) can be explored in all comfort; here you will find all explanations related to Italy’s white gold.
If you are interested in the art of marble carving, a stop at Pietrasanta is a must; in this town, just a little further down, in the province of Lucca, the ancient tradition is still kept alive in many ateliers where artists may be seen crafting their masterpieces. A scenario not unsimilar to that which we would have seen in the Renaissance era, when the great Masters were carrying out their apprenticeship in the artisans’ workshops, preparing to bestow the world with their amazing talent.