Here are the five things you can do in a day in Carrara for free.
Carrara is famous for its white marble, in fact many tourists come to visit the marble quarries without knowing that there is much more to see and to do!
For example, not everyone knows that Carrara has been included by the UNESCO in the list of Creative Cities thanks to the millennial tradition of marble craftsmanship; or that the historic center of Carrara was entirely built of white marble; or that Colonnata is home of such a unique delicacy called “Lardo di Colonnata”.
In my previous post I explained how to get to the Carrara marble quarries, Carrara marble mines, Carrara marble caves,here you find the list of the 5 most interesting things to do or see for free in Carrara with a day at your disposal.
If you also wish to take a guided tour, here are some suggested itineraries suitable for both individuals and groups of tourists.
The 5 most interesting things to do in Carrara for free
- Visit the Carrara marble quarries.
- Visit the Roman Quarry archaeological site.
- Visit Colonnata, the oldest quarry-men village and home of a special cold cut.
- Visit Carrara historic center, the town made out of marble.
- Visit a marble sculpture workshop.
1) Visit the Carrara marble quarries
This is certainly the main tourist attraction in the area,
often the visitor does not have very clear ideas on what to expect to see or how to visit the Carrara marble mines, and asks me:
– What can I visit in the marble quarries?
– Are the quarries a place to enter through a gate?
– Is there much mountain walking to get to the quarries?
– Are the roads asphalted?
– Is it possible to enter into marble quarry?
– Are there parking lots at the marble quarries?
The marble quarries are something unique and definitely unmissable. They are considered the largest marble basin in the world, they are also incomparable in terms of geology, history, art and archeology.
The ancient Romans were the first to use this material to build and embellish the Imperial Rome with palaces, temples and statues.
Afterwards, over the following centuries up to the present day, generations of sculptors such as Donatello, Michelangelo, Bernini, and then engineers, architects all over the world have used Carrara marble to create great masterpieces visible in many museums and history of art books.
What are the marble quarries?
Sometimes there is a little confusion about how to name this area: the proper name is Carrara marble quarries, not Carrara marble mine because most of the excavation is done outdoor, not even Carrara marble caves because a cave is a grotto.
The marble quarries are located in the Apuan Alps mountain range, it is a huge excavation area (marble basins) that stretches for about 2000 acres of mountain, in this area there are about 80 active marble quarries located into three main valleys that start behind the town of Carrara: Torano valley, Fantiscritti valley (Miseglia), Colonnata valley.
Public and asphalted roads start from Carrara and connect it with the mountain villages, these routes offer various photo-stop opportunities and to park in the most panoramic places. These roads, during work days, have marble trucks driving around, be careful where you stop to take photos!
Here you find a proposal of a free itinerary through Carrara and the marble quarries to download from Google maps or in PDF version with a tour description.
Private winding dirty roads branch off from the asphalted roads to reach every single marble quarry, they are narrow, bumpy, steep, unpaved and without guardrails. These routes are accessible only to authorized professionals and tours.
In order to sum up, the area (marble basins) where the marble quarries are located can be reached by car. The marble quarries are numerous, occupy a very large area and, since they are a working area, are not accessible to the public but to the insiders only.
2) Visit the Roman Quarry
In order to get to the Roman Quarry we find the indications along the road that leads to Colonnata, this is an archaeological site dating back to the Roman Age (1st century AD) where the ancient traces of marble excavation are visible and where it is possible to admire a beautiful panorama.
The archaeological site is quite small and is the only one left in the Carrara marble basins, archaeologists estimated that there were about a hundred quarries active in Roman times, of which there is only one left because in many cases the quarry-men have been excavating the same places where the Romans started, or because many old quarries were submerged by the debris created by the intensive use of explosives in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The visit path is indicated by numerous explanatory panels that illustrate the techniques and tools used for the excavation of marble. On the mountain coast you can clearly see the traces left by the tools used to detach the marble blocks. At the same time, the site of the Roman quarry is also an outstanding panoramic point, from here the view extends along the entire Colonnata valley and all around where you can see some marble quarries in activity.
3) Taste the Lardo di Colonnata (pork’s cured back-fat)
When I was a kid, some slices of Lardo di Colonnata were given in the shop in the absence of change, for a long time it was one of the quarry-men’s favorite food because it was easy to preserve, energetic and economic. For 20/25 years Lardo di Colonnata has become a gastronomic delicacy because it’s been made in the same way for such many centuries, that’s why the Slow Food Foundation included the Lardo in the Ark of Taste.
For 1500 years, Lardo di Colonnata has been made in the same way, by using local herbs and spices to flavor fresh pork back-fat. Arriving in the village, however, you will not find pig farms, because what makes Lardo di Colonnata such a unique cold cut worldwide is not the pork meat but the process of curing and seasoning it that involves the using of selected ingredients: sea salt, herbs and spices, marble and ….. the air of Colonnata!
I already imagine your questions: “Herbs, spices, which ones exactly?”, “Marble ?! Does that mean there is marble inside the lard?”, And then “How does the air of Colonnata fit in with lard?”.
Would you like to know more? Take a walk in the village, in Colonnata there is always a fantastic scent, enter the shops (which they call larderie here), ask the producers to tell you “how lard is made”, they will be happy to satisfying your curiosity and will offer you a taste of lardo.
To eat something in Colonnata you have several options: a nice lard sandwich to enjoy while strolling through the alleys of the village, or a snack sitting in the larderia based on local cold cuts, cheese, vegetable tarts and red wine, or have a full meal in one of the local restaurants.
Enjoy your meal!
4) Visit Carrara old town center
Carrara has about 65,000 inhabitants and is a municipality separate from Massa which has roughly the same number of residents, the municipal territory covers the whole area between the Apuan Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Along the Tyrrhenian coast, near the mouth of the Magra river, the ancient Romans founded the colony of Luni, a merchant port from which marbles were shipped to Rome and the rest of the empire. Not much is left of ancient Luni that now is an archaeological area.
Carrara was founded around the X-XI century AD as an agricultural center and, when trade and industrial activities in Italy began to flourish again, Carrara began to develop thanks to the marble industry: extraction, sculpting, processing. Generations of stonemasons and sculptors have shaped blocks, sculpted statues, decorated churches, palaces, houses, portals, windows, balconies in short ALL the city was gradually built and embellished with its white marble! Something really unmissable!
The visit to the historic center begins with the medieval Carrara and the Malaspina castle, today it houses the Academy of Fine Arts, continues along via santa Maria to reach the Duomo (XI-XIV century) entirely made of marble blocks including its bell tower, from the duomo square we descend towards piazza Alberica, the center of the renaissance Carrara embellished with sumptuous palaces of the ‘500-‘600-‘700, afterwards continue up to the Animosi theater built in the mid-nineteenth century, the walk ends returning to Malaspina castle from where the heart of the late nineteenth century Carrara stretches along Via Roma.
Here you can download the tourist map of Carrara with the two tourist routes indicated: the marble streets and the main city monuments.
If you are interested in booking a guided tour for individuals or for a group traveling by bus, here you find some interesting proposals of itinerary.
5) Visit the marble sculpture workshops
Visiting a sculpture workshop is an experience not to be missed among the 5 free things to do in Carrara.
The perfect material for making sculptures is Carrara marble, in this area there are several sculpting workshops specialized in the production of statues, but also of small marble works such as marble icons, tombs and funerary art, altar decorations, production of stairs, kitchen counters, fireplaces, windows and much more. Many of these sculptors emigrated from Carrara and opened their workshops in Italy, in the rest of Europe and in the rest of the world, bringing with themselves this unique knowledge and then passing it on to subsequent generations.
This knowledge, such a unique ability to create has been recognized by UNESCO that has included Carrara in the list of Creative Cities precisely for the marble craftsmanship.
Entering a sculpture workshop is a fascinating experience, these are authentic places where you can breathe an atmosphere of calm industriousness, in the air there is marble dust, the shelves are full of plaster models, statues and others almost finished marble works rest on the pedestals, chisels, hammers, rasps, compasses have always been used everyday by sculptors, guardian of these millennial traditions.
Remember that the marble workshops are closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, during the week it is better to call to warn them of your visit. Upon your arrival, a sculptor will escort you around the workshop, telling about the works in progress and illustrating the methods and techniques of sculpting. Attention that sometimes photos are not allowed !!!
Which workshops are worth visited? Here is a list, certainly incomplete, of some laboratories tha you can find in Carrara:
Telara laboratorio scultura
Cooperativa Scultori Carrara
Laboratorio scultura Costa
Associazione Studi aperti. The presence of the Academy of Fine Arts attracted many students fro all over the works, interested in marble but even working with other materials and active even in paintings.
Associazione studi d’arte