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Italy’s ‘White Gold’ In Danger No End To It’s Demand

The demand is also taking its toll on the land.

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The Cervaiole marble quarry is seen on Monte Altissimo in the Apuan Alps, Tuscany, Italy, July 15, 2017.
The Cervaiole marble quarry is seen on Monte Altissimo in the Apuan Alps, Tuscany, Italy, July 15, 2017. VOA

There is no end to demand for what many consider to be Italy’s white gold, the marble from the Tuscan town of Carrara, a name synonymous with the very best money can buy in the world today. It is no secret, and it is not new. The quarrying in these mountains has been going on for more than 2,000 years.

The Romans were the first to be lured by the stone’s beauty and millions of tourists to this day still flock to admire some of the most magnificent ancient monuments made with this special stone, the likes of the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column in the Eternal City. And then there are famous statues like the David and the Pietà by Renaissance master Michelangelo.

So what is happening in Carrara today?

Artists, sculptors and architects have never ceased making regular pilgrimages here. M.J. Anderson, an American, first came to Carrara as a fledgling sculptor 36 years ago, drawn by the beautiful marble. Considering herself somewhat of a deconstructionist, she likes to take things apart.

“The great thing about carving marble is that once that stone is gone, it’s gone. You can’t lament about it and this keeps you moving forward in the creative process,” she said.

Sculptors like Anderson realize they are dealing with something quite extraordinary here.

“Carrara marble is consistently good. It does not fracture. It’s mined in a very cohesive manner. There’s no surprises when you are carving it. The molecules are put together very well and there’s so many different kinds of marble here. That is what is so special: there is gray, white and cream, in different densities as well and so a sculptor can find anything they want here that will suit their needs,” Anderson said.

That is what is bringing orders – and big money – from all over the world, from Arab nations and emerging markets like China, India and Thailand. Clients want their kitchens, bathrooms and staircases in their homes made from this precious material. Others come with specific ideas for a marble statue, which they commission from the very best marble sculptors in existence. To name just one example: a request came, in recent years, for a huge block to build a massive statue of Buddha.

 A view of a marble quarry and the coast of Versilia from the Monte Altissimo in the Apuan Alps, Tuscany, Italy, July 18, 2017.
A view of a marble quarry and the coast of Versilia from the Monte Altissimo in the Apuan Alps, Tuscany, Italy, July 18, 2017. VOA

A boom in the construction of mosques, especially in the Arab world and north Africa, has meant even more demand and big business for the marble quarrying companies. The Saudi Binladin Group, one of the world’s largest construction companies, acquired 50 percent of Marmi Carrara in recent years. Marmi Carrara owns a third of the quarries that are operational in the area today.

“Just the name Carrara basically says it’s the world’s best marble. It is the most beautiful. It has a centuries’ long history of being the best marble in the world and people come here looking for and wanting the very best,” Anderson said.

What is new is that the demand is moving away from the traditional markets.

“America has been extracting resources for a long time. Now, the money has shifted to the Middle East and they are the ones extracting the resources. That has always been the case. The Romans started the big quarries here in Carrara when they were building cities all over the Mediterranean basin and they were shipping marble out of here. It indicates where the world is shifting, where the resources are going and where the building is taking place,” said Anderson.

The great sculptors have historically been Italian, but now they come from all over world, and some have settled here. Students like 19-year old Xintong Gao come here to learn and take their knowledge home. He said his love of art, painting, and sculpture brought him here from China and he set his sights on enrolling at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara.

Working the marble may be a labor of love, but Gao said it is no easy work.

Not only is learning to sculpt the marble difficult, but extracting it has been a challenge for hundreds of years. Modern technology has made it easier and today the use of large quantities of diamond-tipped wires, saws and heavy earth-moving equipment is essential. The marble industry employs thousands of people but for those quarrying inside the mountains it is sometimes also dangerous work.

White gold bracelet
White gold bracelet, Pixabay

The demand is also taking its toll on the land.

Environmentalists have been expressing huge concerns for years that quarrying is dangerously eroding the mountains and significantly affecting the magnificent landscape of the Apuan Alps here. From afar, it looks like snow but in reality it is the bright marble that makes these mountains white all year round.

“It’s beautiful to see the quarries. They’re dramatic. They’re fabulous, the way the light hits these walls of marble,” said Anderson.

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Admittedly, she notes, the environmentalists’ concerns are not without a basis. “Of course marble does not re-grow. It’s not sustainable. It was made billions of years ago. It is terrible that extraction is occurring at such a rapid pace because of the industrialization. Marble is being taken out of here so fast that entire mountain tops are disappearing. They are extracting marble from the center of these mountains as well and so it is a huge concern. Worldwide the extraction of resources is a concern and what we are looking at here is also a really terrible mining practice,” she said.(VOA)

Next Story

Italy to Make Climate Change and Sustainable Development Study Compulsory for School Children

Many traditional subjects, such as geography, mathematics and physics, would also be studied from the perspective of sustainable development

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Italy, Climate Change, Sustainable Development
Italy's Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti gestures during an interview with Reuters in Rome, Italy, November 4, 2019. VOA

Italy will next year become the world’s first country to make it compulsory for schoolchildren to study climate change and sustainable development, Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti said.

Fioramonti, from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, is the government’s most vocal supporter of green policies and was criticized by the opposition in September for encouraging students to skip school and take part in climate protests.

In an interview in his Rome office on Monday, Fioramonti said all state schools would dedicate 33 hours per year, almost one hour per school week, to climate change issues from the start of the next academic year in September.

Many traditional subjects, such as geography, mathematics and physics, would also be studied from the perspective of sustainable development, said the minister, a former economics professor at South Africa’s Pretoria University.

Italy, Climate Change, Sustainable Development
Fioramonti, from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, is the government’s most vocal supporter of green policies and was criticized by the opposition in September. Pixabay

“The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model,” Fioramonti told Reuters in the interview conducted in fluent English.

“I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.”

Fioramonti, 42, the author of several books arguing gross domestic product should no longer be used as the main measure of countries’ economic success, has been a target of the right-wing opposition since becoming a minister in the two-month-old government of 5-Star and the center-left Democratic Party.

His proposals for new taxes on airline tickets, plastic and sugary foods to raise funds for education were strongly attacked by critics who said Italians were already over-taxed.

 

He then sparked fury from conservatives when he suggested crucifixes should be removed from Italian classrooms to create a more inclusive environment for non-Christians.

Despite the criticism, the government’s 2020 budget presented to parliament this week included both the plastic tax and a new tax on sugary drinks.

“I was ridiculed by everyone and treated like a village idiot, and now a few months later the government is using two of those proposals and it seems to me more and more people are convinced it is the way to go,” Fioramonti said.

ANTI-SALVINI

Italy, Climate Change, Sustainable Development
In an interview in his Rome office on Monday, Fioramonti said all state schools would dedicate 33 hours per year, almost one hour per school week, to climate change issues from the start. Pixabay

Surveys showed 70-80% of Italians backed taxing sugar and flights, he said, adding that coalition lawmakers had told him they would table budget amendments to introduce his proposal to hike air ticket prices before the budget is approved by end-year.

Fioramonti said targeted taxes of this kind were a way of discouraging types of consumption which were harmful to the environment or individuals, while generating resources for schools, welfare or lowering income tax.

In this vein, he suggested other levies on various types of gambling and on profits from oil drilling.

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His progressive positions on the economy and the environment are the antithesis of Matteo Salvini’s hard-right League, which has overtaken 5-Star to become easily Italy’s most popular party, with more than 30% of voter support. (VOA)