We mountain bike quite a bit in Redarca, a little village behind Lerici, Italy. The trails are well maintained and mostly enduro types. I spend most of my time biking the trails around Monte Branzi and the surrounding area (Snake, Guercio, Branzi, Buck).
Google Earth view of some of our favorite trails.
Blurry shot of the Peocio fountain (peace fountain).
We took a tour through the Carrara Marble Mines. If you’re a James Bond fan, you’ve likely had already seen them. The opening scene of Quantum of Solace was filmed here. We drove the same roads as James Bond and even visited the house the car crashes into before going over the cliff. Can you spot the similarities in our photos below?
When you see the white peaks of the mountains in this post, its all marble, not snow!
Carrera has been mined for its marble since Roman times. As our guide said, “It’s not money-making or a product, marble is our culture.” Everywhere you look in the town, you will see its marble. The use of it was never meant for show, it was simply a sturdy building material that was local and abundantly available.
We were greeted at the Carrara-Avenza trail station by our guide Gabrielle. He picked us up, along with 2 other Americans, in a Land Rover Defender. It arrived with white marble-covered tires entirely cloaked in a pale, light dusting of the stuff. After buckling up in the Rover, Ryanne spotted a sticker on the windshield which read, “It’s not a jeep, it’s a f**king Land Rover.” The tour we signed up for mentioned it would be taking us deep into the quarries and by all indications, we knew they weren’t kidding.
Everything you see in the Carrara mountains is marble. There is no granite, no sandstone, no limestone; just marble. The marble gets colored from impurities and oxidation just like any other mineral, but everywhere you look, marble. All the vegetation you see; growing in the cracks of the marble. No soil whatsoever. All the minerals for the plants come from the marble as does the water which pools in cracks of the stone.
As we slowly inch our way up the steep roads of the quarry, you see massive blocks of marble. Many the size of an American SUV and some even bigger. The marble is mined from the outside in on the mountain. Why dig for the marble when it’s everywhere, including the surface? The marble is mined by cutting it into large blocks and then shipping the blocks. A typical block is cut from the mountain-side by first drilling 3 holes into the earth: one vertical and two horizontal which all intersect. Now, a special kind of saw is brought in to begin cutting away the block from the mountain. The “saw” is really a rope which is threaded between 2 of the holes. The “saw” cuts the block by cycling the rope through these holes with the friction of the rope cutting into the earth. After 3 cuts are made, the block is free.
The rope I mentioned is no ordinary rope, but one made from a steel cable with bits of diamond on the outside giving it sharp teeth to cut. As the saw cuts into the earth, it is pulled back from the mountain on rails as to keep the rope tight against the earth to make the cut.
Driving in the Marble quarry is serious business. The roads are steep and windy like hairpins. At one point, our guide had to drive up the mountain backward for traction to get us to the next destination. Definitely not a tour for those afraid of heights. Ryanne took a great video while we were climbing one of the roads in the Land Rover to show the effect. On the drive back down the mountain, no one was saying a word. The driver asked, quite cheeky, why we were so quiet. We told him we wanted to make sure he would have no distractions and be fully focused!
Looking at the marble in the quarries brings mixed emotions. On one hand, it’s amazing to see all the engineering man has been able to create. The sheer size of the equipment, the ingenuity of the design, the ability of to “tame the mountain,” and the beauty of the marble are all a wonder. On the other hand, its a shame to think what man is doing to this natural beauty by slowing carving away at it for the sake of countertops, buildings, and cosmetic products; all things for which the marble is used.
Walking around the quarry is pretty amazing though. Seeing your footprints on the ground in the white dust makes you think of the astronaut’s footprints on the moon. All the mud puddles you see have a white-turquoise tint from the marble dust — reminds me of moon milk inside underground caves.
There are many digging sites at the quarry, most exposed to the surface. However, there are a few sites which do go into the mountain. All the quarry sites are numbered and our tour consisted of driving from site to site from the front side of the mountain to the back and then through a tunnel back to our starting point. Quite an experience!
Figure adapted from Hawkins. Synthetic Aperture Imaging Algorithms:with application to wide bandwidth sonar.Phd Thesis. 1996. https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10092/1082/thesis_fulltext.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y