Visiting the Carrara Quarries: Italy’s Marble Mountains

As a Renaissance fangirl visiting the Carrara marble quarries was a must. But I didn’t anticipate how spectacular these marble mountains in Italy’s Apuan Alps would be.

They are an extraordinary sight. Although you would be forgiven for thinking that they are snow-capped peaks, their quarried faces glisten with marble. 

To learn more about one of Italy’s most iconic exports, discover how to visit the fascinating and spectacularly scenic Carrara marble mines.

f carrara landscape

Why Carrara Marble is So Special

Carrara marble is famed for its high quality and beauty. It has been quarried since Ancient Roman times, then called the “Luna marble.”

The deposits were next to the sea which was ideal for transportation. In those days the marble was rolled down the mountain by hand.

This was the Renaissance’s raw material and was the starting point for many of Florence’s finest sculptures. It can be seen in cathedrals, sculptures and monuments, from the sublime cathedral in Orvieto to the Pantheon, one of Rome’s most famous landmarks.

Michelangelo made many trips to Carrara to select pieces of the stone for his works, including David in Florence and the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is said that David was inspired by the brawny Carrara masons.

a carrara marble mine 6
Carrara marble: The Renaissance’s raw material

White Carrara marble is prized because of its purity (it is 98-99% calcium carbonate). Due to its softness, it is the ideal raw material for sculpting.

Carrara blue-grey marble is harder and has more impurities, namely carbon, clay and iron. This makes it good for building.

carrara marble 2
The beginnings of a bathroom

How to Visit the Carrara Marble Quarries

carrara-marble-mine-tour-office

Carrara Marble Tour offers a 50/60-minute excursion from March to November. In 2023, it costs 15 euros per person. 

Tours are in Italian or English. You don’t need to book in advance unless you are part of a group of at least 20 people.

There is also a small museum, gift shop, restaurant and toilet facilities. In summer, there are mini-bus tours inside the mines.

white jeep for Carrara marble mine tour

Although it is possible to visit some of the Carrara mine areas and the museum under your own steam, I recommend taking the tour. The views alone warrant the modest cost and you get to see the quarries close-up.

My Experience of the Carrara Quarry Tour

I joined a one-hour excursion conducted by Carrara Marble Tour. It offered an excellent insight into the quarrying of this precious limestone.

Staring at the parking lot at Fantiscritti, our guide and driver Pipo bundled us into a 4×4 and negotiated his way along a steep marble road to quarry n.83 Canalgrande Alto, one thousand metres above sea level.

The views from here over the Apuan-Versilian coastline and the Ligurian Sea were sensational.

a carrara marble mine 1

The quarrying industry in Carrara directly employs about 1000 workers. Quarrymen are just that; the labour force is almost 100% male and working here is a tradition passed down through generations of local people.

There is a solitary female; the site’s Health & Safety manager. It takes a woman to keep this many men under control!

woman on visit to carrara marble quarries
I needed a bigger hat (or a smaller head)!

Marble is quarried at Carrara year-round, stopping only when heavy rain makes conditions on the access road dangerous.

This can be a hazardous occupation. Pipo told us that in the last ten years, 14 people have died. On a more positive note, the mine’s safety record is improving.

a carrara marble mine 2

In the distance, we could see the quarrymen hard at work.

A large block of marble called a bancata, is cut from the ground and is then split into smaller blocks with diamond chains. But small is a relative term as these blocks weigh in at 20 tonnes. The blocks are then taken to the harbour of Carrara for shipping to China where they are cut and processed.

a carrara marble mine 8

Quarrying marble is hard work and the men need sustenance. The typical meal of local miners is lardo di Colonnata I.G.P., a herb-infused backfat that is left to age in white marble vats in the nearby village of Colonnata. 

At the end of the tour, you get to try lardo, cut into thin slices, with a glass of red wine. It wouldn’t be my first choice of lunch, but when in Carrara …

carrara food
Lardo, the local delicacy

If the Carrara quarries look familiar, that may be because they were featured in the opening car chase of the 2008 James Bond Quantum of Solace blockbuster (one of my favourite movies filmed in Italy).

How to get to the Carrara Marble Mines, Italy

The Carrara marble quarries are in Tuscany, around four miles northeast of the city of Carrara at the foot of the Apuan Alps.

By car, Carrara is an hour north of Pisa or a 90-minute drive south of Genoa. To get to the starting point of the tour from Carrara, follow signs for Cave and then Fantiscritti.

If you don’t have a car, the nearest railway station is Carrara-Avenza which is on the Genoa-Pisa branch line.

I visited the Carrara marble quarry as a shore excursion from Livorno, a popular port of call on cruises of the Western Mediterranean.

Will Carrara Run Out of Marble?

This was my burning question at the end of the quarry tour.

With limitations on mining, it is thought that there will be Carrara marble for the next 400 – 600 years. Without these restrictions, Carrara may run out of marble within 200 years.

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.