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Near the coast to the north-west of Tuscany, the town of Carrara is best known for its proximity to the famous marble quarries that have supplied marble for many great works of art for the last 2000 years, including by the Romans and the Renaissance artists.
Marrara itself also has a pleasant town centre and there are a couple of beach resorts within easy reach on the coast to the west of here.
Exploring Carrara and surrounding region
A visit will include a chance to explore the town itself, a visit to a quarry or marble workshop, and perhaps a trip to the beach...
Although a quiet town, take the time to explore Carrara and you will find it is pleasant and has several sites of interest and town squares such as Piazza Matteotti and Piazza Alberica surrounded by attractive pasted coloured houses.
The main monument of interest is the 11th century cathedral (Duomo), built of the local white marble in the romanesque style.The cathedral is squeezed into the rather small Piazza del Duomo and there is a house rather too close to the main facade but not to worry...
The lower half of the cathedral is in the light and dark stripes that are typical of the region around Pisa while the upper part of the facade features an attractive rose window (added in the 14th century and quite uncharacteristic of cathedrals in the region) and decorative columns. Inside the cathedral there is a nice 15th century pulpit and some 14th century statues of interest.
Also on the Piazza del Duomo you can see the house where Michelangelo stayed when he came to Carrara in search of marble for his next project, and on Piazza Gramsci there is a small medieval castle.
Both white and blue/grey marbles are produced here but it is the pure white marble found in the hills around Carrara that is the best known and the most in demand from artists and sculptors, as it has been for many centuries. The marble has been used by everyone from the Ancient Romans to Michelangelo and Henry Moore.
In ancient times extracting the marble was a very manual process involving hammers and chisels. Later this manual effort was replaced by dynamite, which was effective but hard to control precisely, and nowadays the marble is extracted using enormous saws that carve off big cubes of marble.
There are several hundred quarries operating in the hills around Carrara and a good number of the asociated saw mills and workshops offer guided visits to explain the processes involved. You can also learn about the processes involved in the Civic Museum of Marble a short bus trip south of the town centre.
You can also visit one of the actual marble quarries if you follow the road towards Colonnata and look out for the signs to the quarry marked Cava di Marmo.
The most popular resorts and beaches nearby are those at Marina di Carrara and Marina di Massa, both of which become very crowded during the summer, especially with Italian holidaymakers. Although the beach at Marina di Carrara is close to hand and a useful chance to let the children paddle it is very close to the local industrial port so you are unlikely to want to base your holiday here.
There are lots of opportunities for hill walking in the attractive mountain surroundings of the Apuane Alps to the east of Carrara, one of the most popular regions of Tuscany with outdoor enthusiasts.
Visitors to this part of Tuscany are also very likely to want to visit Pisa about 50 kilometres to the south!
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.