The old and new of Carrara Marble workers

As I watched the building of the antique marble arch of Palmyra in Syria I could not be more impressed by Italian creativity and talent in using the most update technology of 3D printers to recreate a work of art destroyed in the civil conflict in Syria. While never to replace the original it is still heartening to see the use of the current technology in recreating such a masterpiece. Congratulations to the company –TorArt– which has succeeded in the project, working together with the Institute of Digital Archeology.

Fascinated as I am by the new technology ( see my previous blog on Makers)  I am even more impressed by seeing it used to enormous benefits of us all.

And to think it is on my doorstep, by workers from Fantascritti quarry in Carrara, Tuscany, adds an extra note of pride for their ingenuity and craftsmanship. The arch went on display in Trafalgar Square London 19th April, and will go to New York, Dubai and then home to Syria.

Arch Trafalgar square

Arch in Trafalgar Square Photo credit Lucy Glasser

Fantascritti quarry museumIt also brought back fond memories of various tours I had taken to the quarry of Fantascritti where a retiree of the quarry –Walter Danesi, had created an outstanding museum dedicated to the difficulties and hardships involved in extracting the most beautiful marble in the world. Marble that has created masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s David and more.

The difficulties can be seen here in the photos from the quarry museum, where many have risked their lives over the centuries and continue to do so. The last unfortunate accident on site was but 10 days ago when two workers were crushed under tons of marble and a third rescued as he remained suspended in the air. Not surprisingly the area of Carrara has been known to  be a strong anarchist  haunt as Man challenges the elements of Nature and the ongoing pressure of extraction to meet today’s demands.

Walter Danesi always had lots of stories to tell of his time as a quarry worker and gave a warm welcome to my tour groups and my family. He Walter Danesi book dedicaionwrote a dedication in his book which I cherish “To lovely Susi, with admiration, Walter Danesi”Walter Danesi book






So if you are ever in the area of Carrara, about an hour from Pisa or Lucca, drive up to the Fantascritti Quarry to see for yourselves the marvel of marble and the incredible effort that has gone into it’s extraction and sculpting. Be warned though, it is still a working Quarry and the truck drivers don’t take kindly to visitors on the long windy road…..understandably!


Tuscany’s own Arabian Nights


Sammezzano Castle

Photo credit – Stefano Berti

“Nothing is More Beautiful” is the motto inscribed in the stunning oriental decorations found in the exotic Sammezzano Castle only 30kms from Florence and just a hop skip and jump from my place. Perched high among its secular tree park and oblivious to the thousands of tourists that visit The Mall shopping outlet below, it is something of a tragic icon.

The inspiration of the Marchese – Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes of Aragon who transformed and extended the existing building in 1843-1889 into the Oriental paradise that we know today. An architect, engineer, artisan, disillusioned politician, a visionary and lover of Art and History,  a man who donated significantly to our famous Art Galleries – Uffizi, Accademia, Bargello – financing the 18 statues in the niches of the courtyard of Uffizi, yet would die alone in serious debt over the Sammezzano Castle project.

A step inside and the explosion of colours takes your breath away, it’s truly amazing, overwhelmingly exotic, bizarre, beautiful beyond words! Like walking into a film set of ‘Arabian nights’ , each room unique and enchantingly named – Room of Stars, Lovers Room, Room of Butterflies, Lily Room, and the famous Peacock room and more….

All Photo credits to Save Sammezzano members

Castle Sammezzano rooms

Despite the obvious Arab Spanish influence Ferdinando Panciatichi had never been to Spain, Egypt or Turkey and the workers on site were all local Italians even less likely to have ever travelled outside of the country. Yet the decorations reflect his passion for the mysterious and rather outlandish styles (for the period) and his vision of creating something entirely different.Room of ButterfliesSammezzano decorations





Peacock Room

Peacock room






Every decoration, from floor to ceiling done to exquisite perfection and each room designed to utilise the sunlight to reflect on the elaborate patterns and mirror fragments for illumination.


Sammezzano hallwaySammezzano castle decorations









The  eccentricity of Ferdinando Panciatichi is shown in many of the Latin inscriptions incorporated in the decorations, one in particular showing his disillusionment with politics and on his resignation in 1870 inscribed- ‘Italy is in the hands of thieves, tax collectors, prostitutes and middlemen who control it and devour it. But not for this I grieve, but for the fact that we deserve them.’ !

After his death the Sammezzano Castle was kept in the family until the 1970’s when it was bought by the Palmerston Hotel group and converted into a luxury Hotel which remained in operation until 1990. It was during this period that I was fortunate to make a visit with my parents on the pretext we were interested in making a booking!

In the 1990’s the Castle was bought by an Italo-English Company – Castle Sammezzano SRL – who initially intended to expand the complex with a golf course, pool and tennis courts as the Castle is surrounded by around 250 acres of parkland, 100 acres of which are woodlands with secular native and foreign trees personally selected by Ferdinando.

Sammezzano damage

Graffiti scawled across the decorations

But the project was put aside and the company has done nothing to the site since they bought it. So the Castle is in a state of abandonment, left open to vandals who have defaced some of the decorations and stolen various pieces of furniture and statues. In 2015 the company agreed to place the Castle up for auction but there were no buyers. At a hefty cost of €15 million plus the cost of renovations that would be required it is not that enticing, nor do the present owners feel any responsibility to preserve what is a truly exceptional building and parkland.

Two voluntary associations –  Comitato FPXA and Save Sammezzano have been created to take up the cause, putting pressure on the Government to buy the building (but they declined), and even tried via a crowdfunding project to raise money for its protection and upkeep but were unsuccessful. On occasions the Comitato has been allowed to take visitors through.

A beautiful video on the Castle on the Castle was created by Francesco Esposito for the  Kickstarter project.

Sammezzano lionThe two histrionic lion statues that guarded the façade have been stolen, the last one only recently on1st  April 2016. The only recompense for their disappearance will be the curse that is said to now go onto the thieves – who will die a long slow death by paralysis as did the owner of the house – Ferdinando Panciatichi of Aragon

My only hope is that the curse may extend to it’s current owners, for allowing such a unique masterpiece of Florence go to ruin!Google map

If anyone is interested the next auction is on the 24th May, 2016 so start saving!!!