Binkley Tours the Fantiscritti Quarry in Carrara

michael binkley sculptor stone sculpture marble quarry carrara italy

Michelle and I and some friends took a tour of the Fantiscritti marble quarry east of Carrara, Italy. We calculated a morning with good weather, as the clouds and accompanying storms can swoop in very quickly in the afternoons. We chose a Sunday, so the quarrymen, marble hauling trucks and equipment would not be working.

After checking in to the Carrara Marble Tour Company office, we had half an hour to explore the operations centre of the quarry. We found a very sweet chunk of statuario marble that had a really beautiful rough skin. Michelle took the photo (above) of me lying on it. I really coveted the block, as I could see an interesting sculpture incorporating that skin, but it was earmarked for someone else.

Our tour was made up of 14, and we piled into two Land Rovers and drove up the switchback road from the base at 400M to the summit at 1000M. Although sunny and warm at the base, it was markedly cooler at the summit. Our guide, Giada (Italian for jade), told us about the quarry and the Apuane Alps and we had a few moments for photos before heading back down.

Here’s a little video of our adventure:

This was an example of open pit quarrying. Using giant wire saws, they cut vertically on each side of a section of a “bench” that look like horizontal shelves or huge steps. Then they cut the horizontal bottom and finally the back side. Wire saws are long lines of steel cable that have knotted diamond teeth. 90º vertical and horizontal holes are drilled so the wire can be fed through to begin the cut. Just like a spinning clothesline, the wire is rotated and the motor is backed away until the cable wire saws through the marble. Then huge excavators push the wall of cut marble over onto pillows of crushed marble gravel. The large section is then cut again into quarry blocks and loaded and hauled down the mountain on flat bed trucks.

In our video, we pass several of these pits of benches and you get a glimpse of the scale next to the huge machinery. It was a Sunday, so all was quiet.

They also use giant chainsaws with up to 25 foot long bars to make the cuts, but these are usually used in the cave type of quarrying.

Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

8 Responses to “Binkley Tours the Fantiscritti Quarry in Carrara”

  1. Sabine Goetz

    I really loved this video of your Fantiscritti marble quarry tour. Fascinating to see the origins of marble. The scenery of this area is spectacular! Really great drone footage. Thank you again for sharing your experiences. I look forward to more!? Have a wonderful trip through France! Cheers from a rainy but oh so colourful lower mainland!!!

    • Michael Binkley

      Sabine – To add to the story of marble quarrying, last night’s closing of the “Cava” (Italian for quarry) exhibition featured three percussionists who drummed on used quarry pillows. These are mild steel pillows that are used only once, then discarded. They begin flat and are inserted into the curf (cut) that the wire saw leaves when they saw the back of a new bench. The excavator claws are too fat to reach into the curf, so these pillows are inflated with pressurized water and expand and open the curf enough to allow the excavators to get a good purchase and then they push the wall of marble over onto the crushed gravel. The studio owner got a bunch of these from a quarry last year and nine were set up for the drumming last night. Fun!

  2. Nice video and posting. The drone camera work really helps tell the story. I’m not sure when I’ll be to Carrera region and do some of these things myself…….but until then, I’ll have your trip to inform me.

    Someday if you get a chance to do more “episodes” I’d love to see how a visiting sculptor might encounter a number of colourful marbles in Carrera to purchase and ship home to North America.

    • Michael Binkley

      Kellen, Thanks for writing. I’ll bookmark your idea for a vid, but for now, I’d do what we’ve done in the past: Visit the various stone processing facilities in the area and ask if they have any off-cuts for sale. There usually is and lots of variety to choose from, as stone from all over the world gets traded here. And the prices are great. We are not shipping stone home this time, as we still have 7 months left of Europe and we don’t want to store stone bought here for that period of time.

  3. Doreen Tadey

    What a sight to see the veins of marble in the mountain. At least I think that is what I saw! With the continuous cutting into the veins, what is the estimated time when there will be no Carrera marble left ?
    I was hoping that the piece of marble you envisioned working with would have become available for you to produce another exquisite piece of art.

    • Michael Binkley

      Doreen – yes Mother Nature creates a myriad of striations in the white marble – good eye! The various colours and patterns of those striations give the Carrara marbles their sub-category names – bianco ordinario, arebescatto, calacatta, statuario, bardiglio, etc. The Fanitscritti Valley has all of these varieties. They have been quarrying these mountains for over 2,000 years. It is esimated that 350,000 tonnes of stone is excavated each year, and contract licences last 30 years. The world demand for the white gold is increasing, and architectural design use is the leading consumer. Sculptors always have been the minority consumers. New government laws state that quarries cannot cut the top of mountain peaks and cannot cut massive vertical walls any more. The vertical wall in my video on the left of the top pit has been grandfathered, but an example of what can no longer be done. In the distance of that same shot between the marble walled benches lies the Apuanes to the east. UNESCO has deemed these mountains a heritage site (though you can see one existing quarry that has been grandfathered), with no further excavating. But money vs. UNESCO – who will win? There are three main valleys east of Carrara that are/have been producing marble for centuries, and without going into the UNESCO area, there is plenty of mountains of white yet. This Fantiscritti quarry is one of over 300 quarries in the area. I will not have a problem getting material in my lifetime, and yes, there are 14 pieces of marble that indeed became available for me. Stay tuned for next year, when I finish these sculptures in the new studio.


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