Massa Carrara

Massa - Palazzo DucaleIt is the most northern border of Tuscany, almost wedged in Emilia Romagna, overlooking the beautiful Cinque Terre of Liguria.

A wonderful crossroads where there is the province of Massa Carrara, the first national case of two towns for just one provincial capital: Massa and Carrara. It is a land balanced between inland and coast, where the Apuan Alps, white mountains of marble, look at the sea and smell the brackish taste of the sandy coast. It it has a lot to offer thanks to its nice geographical position and the variety of its territory.

It is impossible not to start from the Lunigiana, just beyond the Apuan Alps, the most northern part. It is a small plot of land with ancient history and traditions owing its fame to Luni, important town in the Roman period. Along the River Magra there are the medieval routes, usually intact, where the pilgrims travelled over to Rome along the Via Francigena. This land is dominated by the Apuan Alps, bare and massive mountain chain, which, while walking in thick woods, enchant you with the particular view over the coast.Carrara - Accademia delle belle arti

The whole province is swarming with castles – often shrouded in mystery and legend – showing the independence of the Principality of the family Cybo Malaspina of just few centuries ago. This dynasty left its mark also in Massa and Carrara with relevant renaissance and baroque masterpieces. The area has also many Romanesque austere and silent parish churches spread in the vegetation and where pilgrims coming from France, Spain and England kneeled. The sea is always there, near: its breeze makes the climate mild all year round. The coast is an ancient landing of many sailors, sailed also by the Romans who from Lunigiana imported the fine hill wine. And talking about specialities, this is also the land of one of the Italian deliciousness: the Lardo di Colonnata. Besides salami and cold pork meat, this food route offers a lot: chestnut honey, testaroli with pesto, panigacci, fresh mushrooms, focaccia of Aulla, cackes with herbs, bread with olives, chestnut bread and so on… At last we must mention the raw material coming out from the bowels of these mountains: the marble. That white and precious stone attracting still today many travellers to sculpt it, but also just to enjoy the imposing charm of the quarries making this one of the most evocative landscapes of Europe.

A short mention also to the two towns.

Although only a few miles apart, the two cities are very different in terms of their urban form: Massa is known for its crooked, narrow streets and its abundance of monuments while Carrara has rather wide streets lined with beautiful houses, squares, parks and gardens. The visitor will immediately be struck by the ubiquitous presence of marble throughout the urban fabric: it can be found in the buildings, the street furniture, the pavements, the doors to public buildings and homes and, above all, in the many works that give these cities a real open-air museum feel.

Massa sprang up along the Roman road between Pisa and Luni and was ruled for long time by the Malaspina family. In the 16th century it became Massa Cybea – from the name of the family from Genoa succeeding the Malaspina – and in 1800, after the annexation to the Duchy of Modena, was called Massa Ducale. Do not miss the picturesque Piazza degli Aranci in Massa, commissioned by Napoleon’s sister and Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Elisa Baciocchi.                                                                                                                                 Overlooking the square is the imposing Palazzo Ducale, built by Alberico I Malaspina and now home to the Provincial Government. Not far from here is the Cathedral with its elegant white marble façade and, higher up, overlooking the city and the sea, Malaspina Castle.

Carrara’s Piazza Alberica has an extraordinary marble pavement that reproduces the city’s coat of arms with its symbolic wheel. A short walk from here is the secluded, half-hidden Duomo di Sant’Andrea (St. Andrew’s Cathedral), built between the 11th and the 14th Century.

Of particular interest is Piazza Gramsci, which, through its monuments, captures the history and characteristics that define the area. Indeed, just a stone’s throw from here is the Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1769 by Maria Teresa Cybo d’Este and developed under the rule of Elisa Baciocchi. Many sculptures of the Bonaparte family were produced during this time, intended to be used as propaganda tools in the European countries conquered by Napoleon.

The square is also home to a great monument honouring the anarchist and socialist Alberto Meschi – who successfully led the quarry workers’ strikes – as well as monuments representing three of the city’s distinguished citizens: the sculptor Pietro Tacca, the economist Pellegrino Rossi and the philosopher Angelo Pelliccia. Since older times site of the town’s vegetable market, the modest Piazza delle Erbe is also very charming; towering above the square stands the residence that once belonged to the Diana family, one of Carrara’s leading marble producers and supplier to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The marble quarries themselves located just outside the city can be accessed via tunnels cut through the mountain wall.

Surrounded by chestnut trees and boasting spectacular views of the quarries is the village of Torano, just two kilometres from Carrara. The name derives from the Italian word “tori” (“bulls”), which were used for transporting blocks of marble.

Also worth a visit is the Fantiscritti Quarry Museum, opened by Walter Danesi after forty years of research, this is a must-see attraction for those wishing to learn more about the history and culture of Carrara marble.

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