Marble: handling and transportation techniques

The bench wall, once separated from the mountain, is firstly handled or divided into square or rectangular blocks to be moved, in order to make it easier the transportation from the mountain to the plain, where marble is processed or continues its journey to the port of Carrara to reach buyers all across the world.

In ancient times, marble blocks were handled through the use of slides or the spectacular technique called lizzatura, which permitted moving the blocks from areas at heights to the quarry yard, in which it was loaded over carts and transported to the plain. The technique implied the use of a group of quarrymen known as “compagnia di lizza”, who placed the block (or the blocks: the lizzatura could involve more blocks) on quadrangular wood beams (usually made of beech wood, or another very robust material), which were known as “lizze”, slightly curved on the rear part and which formed a kind of slide. The marble was then secured with lubricated hawsers (which have been replaced by steel ropes recently) that were harnessed to circular wood poles with several turns. The poles were known as “piri”, planted in the ground, and they bore all the weight of the blocks to be moved. The sliding of the hawsers around the poles permitted the descent of the load: as it progressively went down, the beams slid over the parati, small logs which were soaped to make the movement of the load easier and progressively moved along the “via di lizza”, the route along the slope of the mountain. The “capolizza” led the operations, he gave the orders to the “mollatori” (the workers in charge of the hawsers) and the “legnaroli” (those who moved the logs as the load went down): his job was the most dangerous one, as he had to stay ahead of the load to best direct the lizzatura, subject to the mortal risk of being run over, in case the hawsers broke. The routes were not long but very complicated (because there were inclination changes, turns, asperities that could be faced along the path, and also technical difficulties could arise) and the lizzatura could last for hours requiring a great strength, stamina, calculation skills, familiarity with the mountain and intelligence, so much that being part of a group in charge of the lizzatura was considered a great honour from the quarrymen. The lizzatura technique was chosen to handle the enormous “monolith”, a block of 300 tons, mined in 1929 and destined to Foro Italico in Rome (videos from that time which witness all the operations can be easily found online).

Also the varata was used to handle blocks, as the explosions had the large bench walls slide downward.

Nowadays, modern heavy duty machines are used to handle the blocks. Through the use of hoists, bulldozers, caterpillars or cranes, the bench walls are overturned: once cut, they are reversed over the quarry yard, over a “letto di caduta” (fall area) which is previously prepared and composed of debris. The operation has also the purpose of evaluating the quality of the material. The production cycle in the quarry ends with the lifting, by using cranes, of the blocks that are loaded on the vehicles which transport them to the plain. In the past, the transportation of blocks was done with carts pulled by oxen, whereas now dozens of lorries travel every day the marble way, which connects the quarries to the plain. Between 1876 and 1964, the transportation was done by railway: in that period, the Ferrovia Marmifera (Marble Railway) was active and had several stations corresponding to the most important quarries. The blocks started from the stations of Colonnata, Gioia, Calaggio, Ravaccione, Fantiscritti, Tarnone to reach the historical town centre of Carrara, where there were the stations of Carrara Monterosso (used for goods only: here the blocks were unloaded to reach the processing plants close to the centre) and Carrara San Martino (the station of the town of Carrara, used also for the transportation of passengers). Finally, the blocks arrived to the areas closer to the sea, such as Avenza and Marina, in which the blocks were sorted and sent either towards the coast facilities or boarded in the port.