Michelangelo's quarry faces a ruinous future future

THE TOWERING white cliffs which dominate the town of Carrara still echo with the sharp whine of quarrying equipment, but many of the men who carve the world's most sought-after marble from the Tuscan hills may soon be forced to abandon their ancient craft.

IMEG, Carrara's largest cutter and distributor of the marble favoured by Michelangelo, is in the hands of a receiver who is working to keep the company alive. "We don't even want to think about the effects of a definitive closure: it would be devastating for the whole area," said Maria Taddei at the Tuscany regional council. "When marble falls, it hurts. If this company goes under, a whole centuries-old system collapses."

That "system" has ensured Carrara's dazzling but over-abundant marble remains a costly luxury. Since the days of Michelangelo, co-operatives have hewn the stone from the hills above Carrara. The blocks are passed to craftsmen who cut them into usable slabs and set international standards for marble working, and then to companies which regulate the flow of stone. While hammers and chisels have given way to machines, and the market has shifted from Europe to up-and-coming countries of the Middle and Far East, the system has remained firmly in place.

"Without the system, there would be no checks and balances, nothing to keep the price from plunging," said Ms Taddei. Until it was declared bankrupt this week, IMEG dominated the system. Without IMEG, the Carrara marble industry may implode. "The system is vital, and IMEG is vital to the system," said a Carrara councillor, Ildo Fusani, who put the company's woes down to "incomprehension and lack of communication" between former owners, the local Petacchi family and an Israeli businessman, David Fisher.

Attempts by Mr Fisher to streamline operations by closing peripheral plants and laying off workers did little to improve the atmosphere. When a fire devastated IMEG headquarters, locals put it down to arson. But Carrara's town council is determined to keep the company alive, said Mr Fusani.

Purchasers are being sought in Italy and abroad, IMEG employees are being urged to consider a buy-out, and local business figures are studying the possibility of a concerted takeover. "But it's such an unwieldy company it's not going to be easy to sell it," said the owner of small marble concern. Mr Fusani said: "The three stages of the marble industry have to be kept together. This isn't protectionism, this is common sense. It's the only way Carrara can work."

For Carrara, keeping the marble sector going is vital: half the 3.6 trillion lire (pounds 1.2bn) of stone exported by Italy in 1996 was Carrara marble. Moreover, the industry and its associated services are the biggest local employers. "If a company like IMEG dies, a part of the town dies," said the quarry owner. "Everyone pays: the truck drivers, the suppliers, even the cleaning contractors." Yet there are those who have been expecting a crisis in Carrara's marble industry for some time.

The British sculptor Matthew Spender, a Tuscany resident, says a crisis has been inevitable since the emphasis in Carrara shifted too far towards profit and away from the marble and its artistic potential, the factor which made the area's stone world-famous. "Marble has stopped being a craft and has become an industry," said Spender, who readily admits to "picking up bits and pieces from the quarries whenever I need them.

"The people involved no longer see the stone as a material which may contain the most beautiful thing on earth. All they are interested in is eating up the mountain and making money out of it," he said. "That's not what Carrara is about."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project