Inside Italy’s $1 billion marble mountains that produce more tons than anywhere else on Earth

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Carrara marble is one of the most prestigious marbles in the world. A slab can cost up to $400 per square meter, and over history, it has been used for some remarkable buildings. Think of the Pantheon in Rome or Michelagelo’s iconic statue, David. The luxury stone comes the Apuan Alps, a mountain range in northern Tuscany that stretches for 58 km and reaches 2,000 meters high.

Marble has been carved here since the Ancient Roman times, and because of its millennial history, the Carrara quarries have produced more marble than any other place on Earth. The market as a whole is worth over €1 billion ($1.1 billion) and produces 4 million tons of marble every year, with 13,000 people involved. The quarries were even featured in a James Bond movie, with Daniel Craig driving an Aston Martin DBS up the marble slopes.

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Marble extraction in Carrara is done with a 5-millimeter diamond wire or with big chainsaws.

Depending on how they are extracted and on their veins, some marbles will be more expensive than others. For example, a slab of Statuario or Calacatta marble can cost over €10,000 ($11,000) per ton. The more expensive one is usually the type of marble that’s exported. Last year, 1.2 million tons of blocks crossed the Italian border to China, the United States, and Germany as the top 3.

The marble that stays goes to local businesses and artisanal workshops, which are distributed along the coastal towns of western Tuscany. Standing out is the town of Pietrasanta, or “the city of marble” called so because of its continuous flow of artists. Unlike foreign companies who seek the most luxurious slab, artisans in Pietrasanta are looking for the perfect stone to bring to life, as Michelangelo used to say.

“When you make a sculpture some materials can flake apart, whereas this one is pretty homogeneous,” master sculptor Franco Cervietti told INSIDER. Cervietti’s workshop sculpts around 200 tons of marble every year. “We say that some materials have a “side” because on one side they work very well, while on the other side they’re very hard. So they’re difficult to shape, to model. Instead the Carrara marble has all those characteristics. Then it’s a pretty uniform white. It has a medium hardness. It’s not too hard and not too soft. It’s really perfect.”