Our coolest photo shoot ever took us to the Fantiscritti marble fields in the hills above Carrara, in Tuscan Italy, in search of the hole the quarrymen left in 1464 when cutting out the marble for Michelangelo’s David. Within minutes, we were soaked to the bone by the driving winter rains. The road up to Collonnata ran right through the quarries so, other than an occasional warning siren, there were no restrictions on movement. The greatest photographic challenges, in fact, were dealing with slow shutter speeds and constant vibration from the blasting that continued all afternoon around us.
Michelangelo famously spent months at a time in the quarries of Italy searching out the perfect block of marble for his latest statue, but in the case of the David, he was actually the third sculptor to tackle this particular hunk of stone. Agostino di Duccio and Antonio Rossellino both chopped away at it before Michelangelo finally talked the Florentine city fathers into letting him try his hand. The project took him two years and was unveiled on 8 September, 1504, on the Piazza della Signoria outside the Palazzo Vecchio. From that spot, the original and its replica have spent the last five centuries staring southward at the Goliaths of Rome and daring them to take on the independent republicans of Firenze.
Nowadays, the quarrying in Carrara is all done by machine, and by far the biggest use of the gorgeous stone is for gravel. But it isn’t hard to picture the old ways, with many a stone quarryman’s hut still hanging off the mountainsides with ancient knives, saws, hammers, and chisels affixed to the walls. Those quarrymen were nearly all anarchists and turned the tiny metropolis of Carrara into one of the 19th Century’s most influential hotbeds of European radicalism. Their spirit survives today in Toscana’s reputation for crazy and contrarian politics.
After centuries of chipping away, the mountainsides have receded, so we’re pretty sure the hole in the photo gave birth to a more modern statue gracing some obscure piazza in some obscure European city. But still, you can feel the ghosts of Michelangelo and his contemporaries all over these valleys.