Along The Italian Riviera with the Penn State Alumni Association

A group of 22 Penn State travelers explored the Italian Riviera from Oct. 27-Nov. 4, 2007, in a Penn State Alumni Association tour. You can experience the region’s beauty and history vicariously by reading dispatches from such places as Sestri Levante, Portofino, Genoa, and the Cinque Terre.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Word for Today is "Marble"

Thursday's theme was marble: We made a day trip to Carrara, which is pretty much the white marble capital of the world.

The day started with a PowerPoint presentation at the hotel by Umberto, our AHI trip director, who happens to be a native of Carrara and who spoke informatively and passionately about the history of Carrara marble. It was Carrara marble that Michelangelo used to sculpt his famous David (in Florence) and Pieta (in Rome), among many others. But Carrara marble can also be found in architecture worldwide -- Umberto showed us buildings in Chicago, London, and Paris that feature Carrara marble in their construction. He told a funny story of being in the States on his honeymoon a few years ago and noticing a building on New York City's Park Avenue that used Carrara marble; he tried unsuccessfully to persuade the security guards to let him take a picture. "I'm from Carrara!" he told them. "This is my marble!" The guards didn't budge.

On the hour-long drive, we learned that the economy of Carrara (a city of 70,000, I think Umberto said) is almost exclusively tied up in the marble industry. About 1,000 companies locally are involved in marble processing, with 5,000 workers employed in processing. The city has a busy port, where white Carrara marble is shipped to other countries, and multi-colored marble from other areas is brought in for processing.

Here are a couple of shots from our visit to a marble workshop (sort of like a marble factory). The first is of Lorenzo, one of the employees, letting one of the AHI travelers try her hand at working with the marble.

Here's another employee of the marble workshop using a very fine-grained sandpaper to polish a piece of marble.

And here's a shot just to give you a feel for how much marble there was lying around at the workshop.

We also drove up into the mountain to see the extraction process -- a laborious and still-dangerous line of work. There are 100 active marble quarries in the area, employing about 1,000 workers, and there are about three fatalities a year. Marble weighs a lot, and as they cut it out of the mountain, there's lots of risk for getting crushed. Here you can see the mountain that's made of marble; if you look closely you can see some of the orange-colored equipment in the middle of the photo.

And here's a closer look at some more of the equipment that is used for slicing the marble right out of the mountain.

After lunch in Carrara, we strolled around the town a bit, and had an unexpected bit of entertainment as Umberto tried to shoo cars away from the pedestrian zone. Eash time a car would pull into the alley where we were gathered, Umberto would interrupt what he was telling us about in order to take them on, waving his arm at the driver in a scolding way and saying to them in rapid-fire Italian that cars could not come in. He won a few and lost a few, and we couldn't stop laughing.

On Friday we visit Lucca. Saturday is a free day -- some of the travelers are planning to visit Florence, and many are plotting a return to the Cinque Terre.

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