Portoro and Carrara Marble Tours

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Italy is famous for its “white gold”, the marmo di Carrara: hundreds of quarries have operated in the Apuan Alps since the days of ancient Rome. But did you know that, in addition to the renowned Carrara marble, there is also a prestigious and beautiful black marble called Portoro or Marmo di Portovenere?

Portoro Marble

Portoro is a fine-grained, black marble with gold veining resembling ripples in a stream. It is quarried in Portovenere, in the Gulf of La Spezia (Liguria), just one-hour drive away from the famous quarries of Carrara (Tuscany). This elegant stone is generally used for floors, walls, vanity tops, stairs, vases, columns, paneling and the interiors of churches and palaces.

portoro portovenere marble
Portoro inside St. Peter’s Church in Portovenere

Portoro was used since Roman times, mainly in the city of Luni. During the Middle Ages its use was widespread in Genoa, and from the XVII century it became very popular in religious buildings throughout Italy. Examples of churches that feature interiors with Portoro marble include San Pietro in Vincoli, San Paolo fuori le Mura and San Giovanni Laterano. At the end of the XIX century, Portovenere Marble gained popularity abroad, particularly in France, Belgium and Switzerland, where it embellished palaces and castles like the ones in Versailles, Marly and Compiegne. The Paramount Home Theatre in the United States also features this valuable Italian black limestone from Portovenere.

The name derives from the Italian translation of the French term porte d’or (golden door), which was used during the French domination in the Gulf of Poets . It was also called Jade of Portovenere.

Portoro was extracted in several quarries located near La Spezia, precisely on the promontory of Portovenere and in Palmaria and Tino Islands. Documents from the XIX century report the location of thirty quarries existing in that area. Here is a video from the early 1930’s, showing a Portoro quarry in Porto Venere.

Subsequently, due to both environmental constraints and depletion, the quarrying activity on the islands slowly declined and then ceased in the early 1980s. Currently, there are less than 5 active quarries in Portovenere, around Monte Muzzerone, Monte Castellana and Le Grazie.

Carrara Marble Tours

While the Portoro quarries are not open for visits, if you are staying in Portovenere you can easily organize a day trip to Carrara and explore the spectacular Apuan Alps to get to know one of the most precious marbles in the world. The use of these marble quarries dates back as far as the Iron Age. Carrara Marble is found in all the most important museums, palaces and churches in Italy, and it was sculpted by the greatest artists of history, such as Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini.

carrara marble tour quarry tuscany

The Carrara Marble Experience includes a guided tour of a quarry where ancient and modern methods for the extraction of marble are explained. You will be amazed by more than 2000 years of history of the quarries where Michelangelo would personally choose the blocks for his masterpieces. Afterwards, you will stop in the town of Colonnata to taste the famous local lardo and learn the secrets of its production. The excursion ends with a visit at a sculpture workshop where a craftsman explains “the art of removing” to give life to marble objects and statues.

Grand Hotel Portovenere offers its guests the Carrara Marble Tour experience, which lasts around 7 hours (including the round-trip transfers). The luxury hotel near Cinque Terre also pays tribute to the territory with its “Between Liguria & Tuscany” Amenities Line, featuring drink rocks, glass coasters, and salt and pepper shakers made with local black and white marble.

italian black and white marble
“Between Liguria & Tuscany” Amenities Line with black and white marble

Source: “Portoro, the black and gold Italian marble” article in Rendiconti Lincei. Scienze Fisiche e Naturali by Fratini, F., Pecchioni, E., Cantisani, E. et al. Rend. Fis. Acc. Lincei (2015) 26: 415. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12210-015-0420-7

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