In a famous letter, Michelangelo relates how he miraculously escaped death when an enormous block of marble, which had torn loose from the rings of a wedge known as an olivella, came close to flattening him; less fortunate was one of his workmen, who was crushed to death. The crude description of this incident, by a man who loved marble nevertheless, is one of the most tragic and direct accounts of the hazards involved in a system of transport which, since Roman times down to just a few decades ago, was a compulsory stage in getting the marble from quarry to flatland terrain: lizzatura.
This method of dragging the marble blocks on purpose-built wooden lizzas is ancient. In remote times the blocks were conveyed on lizzas all the way from quarry to ship in a slow and laborious progress over trails that were “roads” in name only. With improvements to the road system allowing safer methods of transport, lizza nevertheless for centuries remained the only option for the quarry-loading platform part of the trajectory, up through the jagged trajectory of the skid paths.
It would still be many years before lizzatura was wholly eliminated. Not until the 1940s, in fact, with the construction of a spectacularly tortuous road network through the marble fields and the closure of the Marmifera railway, could rubber-tired vehicles load the marble blocks in the quarry and transport them to the processing plant. It’s these modern methods which we examined briefly at the beginning of this section. Among them, the one which is almost as spectacular and dangerous as lizzatura is transportation by truck down the valley: the gradient, route, road surface and hairpin trajectory they follow make these enormous vehicles perform manoeuvres as daring as those of the carts described by Juvenal, Stoppani and Roccatagliata; but writers are interested in other subjects nowadays!




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