Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 21, 2019

Carrara marble and lardo

Carrara is a city and Comune in Tuscany famous for white and blue/grey marble. There were settlements in the area as early as the 9th century BC, when the Apuan Ligure lived in the region.

The current town originated from the settlement built to house the workers in the marble quarries created by the Romans after their conquest of the Ligurians in the early 2nd century BC. Carrara has been linked to quarrying and carving marble since the Roman age.

The Pantheon and Trajan’s column in Rome are constructed from Carrara marble and many sculptures from the Renaissance, including those by Michelangelo, were carved from it.

The marble industry continues today and the quarries can be seen from the Autostrada along the coast below the mountains. From a distance they are often mistaken for snow.

I have visited the marble caves many years ago, but it is a fascinating area to see, so I returned recently with friends. We found the Frantiscritti Cave from where it is possible to do tours of the area and the caves.


We chose the tour of the quarries. There is a ticket office beside the restaurant at the site. There is another ticket office nearby which does the cave tours.

While we were waiting for the tour to begin we wandered through the open air museum which shows how the workers lived and worked in the marble caves. It must have been a shockingly hard life in past centuries before the work became more mechanised.

At the entrance there is a typical worker’s hut. Capannari were quarrymen during the day and night watchmen at night after work. They had no heating and a cold, starving family of 7 or 8 people, including aged people, crammed into a tiny single room.

They lived close to the quarry to avoid a 1 or 2 hour walk to work. Because of the distance the families were cut off from the towns and as a result there was a high level of illiteracy.

There is a blacksmith beside the house. These men were kept busy making and repairing the workers’ tools.

There are various sculptures telling the stories of the marble workers.

There are photos depicting the daily life of the workers.

Soon we were loaded into a rugged vehicle to take us up the mountain to the quarries. We hurtled up the dirt roads at speed…great fun. The work is open cut now, rather than from caves.

Our driver and guide explained the process of excavating the marble from the mountain sides. It takes days to cut a single block from the site. It is still dangerous work, but not nearly as bad as when the marble was cut by hand and loaded on to bullock drays and carted to the port.

This would be an excellent job for people who grew up loving to play with their Tonka toys.

After our tour we headed further up the mountain to Colonnata, a small mountain village 550 metres above sea level. It is famous for marble and lardo. It is a well kept town, with the usual narrow, winding streets.

We came upon Cristo dei Cavatori in a marble floored piazza.

Beside it is a bas relief monument to the marble workers.

They sit in front of a pretty church…lined with marble.

Lardo is made by squeezing pork back fat into a marble basin. It is seasoned with sea salt and herbs and cured for at least 6 months. The marble caves were an excellent place to cure the lardo because the temperature was cool.

We walked past a place where the Lardo was stored and could smell the delicious aroma of the herbs.

Of course we had to try it. There are many places to eat lardo in Colonnata. We chose one with an outdoor setting as it was a lovely warm autumn day.

Lardo is sliced thinly. It is almost translucent. It is usually served on toasted bread and it melts in your mouth. Don’t knock it until you try it!

There are good views of the marble areas from Colonnata.

If you are in the area, a trip to the mountains behind Carrara is a great way to spend a day. The quarry tour is fun and a lardo lunch is delicious.

Thank you Liz and Alan for organising the trip, it was excellent.


  1. Fascinating …thank you. What a great post and so interesting. Makes me want to go there next time I’m in Italia.

    • It is a really interesting thing to do! I was fascinated by the lives of the workers. It must have been miserable living in those tiny huts, especially in winter.

  2. Interesting story Deb. We drove past the marble quarries many times and pondered how they would have moved such large pieces of marble down the mountains, in tact, in the days of Michelangelo. The quarries certainly have a long history.

    • In times past to break the marble apart a small crack was found and a wedge of wood was pushed in then water was poured on to make the wood swell. It would eventually break it open.
      Bullock drays were used to haul it to the port.

  3. It was a great experience – a fantastic post Deb

    • It was fun, and interesting.

  4. I loved this post.

    • Thank you, it was a great day.

  5. wow, how much Carrara has changed, I was there probably 51 years ago, yes are reading this right.

    • I was there 10 years ago, before the tours were offered. The little museum was there.

  6. We did this tour also & it was excellent, we would definitely recommend it. The day we were there it was very clear & the view across to the sea was lovely also. It was good to learn that some of the surrounding marble mountains are now protected from future mining to preserve this spectacular area. I didn’t see any photo’s of you in your hard hat & fluro vest though 🤔 ?

    • Very interesting I would defenatly consider the tour .Thank You Debra could you provide the tour operator.

      • Go to the Frantscritti cave, it is well signed once you leave Carrara. The ticket office is beside the restaurant.

    • I rarely put photos of myself on the blog, and certainly not in a blue hard hat!
      Only 5% of the area is available for the mining of the marble.

  7. A must do trip if you are staying in the Bagni di Lucca área, but living there a century ago must have been very hard. There are some nice marble artifacts that you can buy…and they are not made in China! The lardo is quite an experience and very tasty.

    • There are few shops along the way where you can buy the marble, and they are very good.

  8. I enjoy this blog very much as very well done.

  9. Carrara and Colonata have both been on my Italian bucket list for awhile now. Can you tell me if driving by car is the only way to get up there? Is there public transportation, and would it be at all possible to either cycle, or hike up there?
    Thanks so much, enjoy your posts and your photos always,
    Derin Gemignani

  10. A fascinating tour and fabulous photos, Deb! Some years ago, Amber and I spied some delectable-looking lardo in a tiny Lucca deli, bought some to take back to your apartment at Bagni Di Lucca. We really didn’t know what it was, so, we asked Paolo at his shop. He really laughed hard when we showed him our big bulk of lardo. After he finished laughing, he told us to spread it on toast for breakfast. This we did. It was an acquired taste for us, an interesting experience all the same.

    • I remember that story. I think it may have still been in the fridge when I arrived.

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