Battle over Tuscan Quarries
The Tuscan mines that provided the marble for Michaelangelo’s David is at risk of being over mined, fueling dangerous levels of erosion. The mines located near the town of Carrara were the source of marble for Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, the David, his depiction of the Madonna and Child (Pietà), as well as other sculpted masterpieces in Italy’s rich artistic history.
Conservationists and environmental groups such as the Italian Environment Fund, FAI (the Italian National Trust), and Italia Nostra (“Our Italy”) are demanding stricter regulations over the extraction of marble. Among proposed measures are a ban on removal of materials over 1,200 meters and stricter controls on the opening of new quarries.
Environmentalists attest that too much marble is being extracted from the mountains that stretch from northern Tuscany into Liguria. Less than five decades ago, about 400,000 tons of material were removed annually, while today that figure is bordering one million.
The quarry industry is pushing back, claiming that their work employs thousands of people in an area (and country) of high unemployment and is vital to the region’s economy. The highest quality stone sells for up to 4,000 euros per ton, with total exports from these mines accumulating to nearly 330 million euros a year.
But controversy over these mines does not stop at environmental issues. Last year, a Saudi company owned by the family of Osama bin Laden purchased 50 percent of one of the largest marble companies in the area. Carrara marble is in high demand in the Middle East, where it is used for the construction of mosques.
The regional government of Tuscany is left to arbitrate the two sides- trying to mitigate environmental concerns while still preserving and promoting job growth in the area.
The nearly 80 mines in the area have had a massive impact not only on the economic growth of the region, but also on the creation of artistic and architectural masterpieces all over Italy and the European Union.Carrara marble was used in the construction of the Pantheon in Rome, the MarbleArch in London, Trajan’s Column in Romania, and the Cathedral of Siena.