Italy. There goes without saying that this is the country of art, the place where cultivated patrons commissioned treasures the whole world wishes to see, the land that provides inspiration for countless artistic productions and the nation that leaves us speechless with its stunning natural landscapes. Favoured by artists and poets, writers and dreamers, there is something special about the entire peninsula: from north to south, cities and villages, be they close to the mountains or dotting silvery shores, you are bound to fall in love with the plethora of artistic splendour.
Where does this beauty lead us if not to the enjoyment of life, the refinement of our existence and the pure display of talent and skill?
Sure enough, first-time visitors to Tuscany may feel overwhelmed: immensely beautiful villages perched on ethereal hills, vistas so gorgeous that defy belief and the honesty of its people that brings tears to your eyes. This region has seen its fair share of extraordinary people crafting masterpieces, and back in the days as in modern times, artists have coloured the lives of many-a-person: will you be part of this magic aura?
Among the many marvels that made this country famous is the white beauty that stole the heart of countless sculptors, Michelangelo being most renowned – the marble for his Rome Pietà came from here – but also Canova, Rodin and many more. A natural resource that is hard to the touch, but speaks with the language of poetry and love, touching upon the soul of those who employ it to craft art and those who admire it.
The story of Carrara marbles, however, is not only strewn with famous statues and renowned creations, but it also speaks of the daring men who worked in the quarries. The cavatori – as they are known in Italian – were committed to a dangerous job and many lives were lost with the lizzatura technique, the system that “slid” blocks of marble from the mountains down to the sea.
Beyond fascinating, the story of these quarries dates back to pre-Roman times and you can learn all about it by visiting the marble quarries of Torano, Fantiscritti and Colonnata.
If you take a tour of the ancient Ferrovia Marmifera, the marble rail track, it’ll feel like entering a time machine. Although now disused, this engineering marvel is still visible in its bridges, viaducts and tunnels: you will gaze in awe at the quarries and will learn to respect this precious stone. While Fantiscritti may be at the heart of the quarries, Colonnata certainly hosts the biggest one: a mere look at the Gioia quarries will stir emotions, all those centuries of toil and sweat combined in one single image.
Beyond the artistic productions, however, marble is also employed in the creation of an exquisite delicacy: Colonnata lard. Stored in marble basins from the Canaloni quarry for at least six months, this treat is seasoned with salt, garlic and rosemary. Some say that even Michelangelo went mad about it: isn’t this the product of love?
Where the rivers Serra and Vezza converge, crowned by the Apuan Alps, that’s where you’ll find Seravezza, a quaint town, whose story is inextricably linked with marble. Monte Altissimo, Trambiserra, Cappella and Ceragela offer a unique type of marble, admired the world over. Michelangelo came here in 1518 to select some blocks for his statues, while he was working for Pope Leo X, Lorenzo de Medici’s son: what is known as Via di Michelangelo is the road that leads onto the sea – the way the marble blocks were then transported elsewhere.
The white marvel aside, the area is also rich in important churches, such as the Duomo, the Pieve di San Martino and the Misericordia church, displaying several 15th century artworks. Visit them all while cycling across the area or hiking, following one of the many trails. Halfway between the sea and the mountains, this area holds many treasures.
Perhaps the most famous Italian family of all times, the Medici brought immense cultural and secular riches to the city of Florence and the entire region. Through their most celebrated member, Lorenzo il Magnifico, art was elevated to a level that had been unthinkable before then, at a time when man was regaining his place in the great scheme of things. The legacy of the Medici is everywhere in Florence, but also in the Tuscan countrysidem by means of exceptional villas: Palazzo Mediceo in Seravezza is one such example.
All twelve Medici Villas and two gardens across Tuscany are part of the UNESCO world heritage list: this adds to their relevance and status. Symmetrical and sober from the outside, the interior of the palazzo displays lavish decorations: a summer residency for the Medici and pivotal Tuscan families, the building is now an exciting cultural powerhouse that hosts contemporary and modern art exhibitions, theatre performances and is home to the Museum of Versilia Popular Traditions. The Terre Medicee Foundation is the cultural mind behind it all: as well as running the Palazzo, the Foundation sees culture as the way forward in the world.
Contemporary art and projects form the playbooks of another relevant presence in the area: the Arkad Foundation. A hotbed of cutting edge performances, art exhibitions, concerts and conferences, the foundation offers a lab, various artist’s studios, flats to host artists in residence and exhibition spaces. The idea is to encourage cultural exchanges, in the form of learning academies as well, in an environment that looks at art as a means of spreading knowledge. Part of the Polo Mediceo, ARTCO Studio hosts the Foundation and is a prominent cultural livewire: founded by Cynthia Sah and Nicolas Bertoux in 1998, the Studio lies next to the Palazzo Mediceo and is housed in a pre-industrial building.
Here, again, the poetry of marble strikes a chord as it is employed in a vast number of projects: come and admire the endless possibilities of such a versatile material. Pay a visit to learn about current and future projects, grasping the essence of such a creative, innovative and inspired corner of northern Tuscany.
True to a region that sees art and beauty as its core, Il Bottaccio encourages its guests to love and admire art in all its shapes and forms. Here, even a handrail disguises the genius of a clever artist, and then it’s a sensational parade of paintings, sculptures, decorations, textiles and furniture. Marble certainly triumphs, but other media are employed in a discerning juxtaposition of eras and subjects, design pieces sitting next to precious carpets, oil paintings hidden within wooden doors and an overall creative aura to be sensed everywhere.