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."

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior DBA (SQL Server, T-SQL, SSIS, SSAS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior DBA (SQ...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment