Photos: Michelangelo’s dreams in marble realised at surreal Italian quarry

High in the Apuan Alps in Tuscany, Mount Altissimo holds marble that Michelangelo himself sought over any other --even over that in the statue of David, taken from Carrara. While the master's dream remained unfulfilled, quarries on the mountain, now operational, resemble art in their own right.

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST 10 Photos
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On Mount Altissimo in Italy lie marble quarries scouted for the facade of the Basilica San Lorenzo by Michelangelo himself. Scaling the mountain in 1517, he praised this metamorphosed limestone for its compact grain, homogeneity and crystalline nature reminiscent of sugar. Modern extraction techniques at the mountain have produced surreal landscapes similar to some Cubist paintings -- a dizzying array of upside down staircases and sugar-cube structures looking heavenward. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

On Mount Altissimo in Italy lie marble quarries scouted for the facade of the Basilica San Lorenzo by Michelangelo himself. Scaling the mountain in 1517, he praised this metamorphosed limestone for its compact grain, homogeneity and crystalline nature reminiscent of sugar. Modern extraction techniques at the mountain have produced surreal landscapes similar to some Cubist paintings -- a dizzying array of upside down staircases and sugar-cube structures looking heavenward. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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The marble road to the Cervaiole quarry on Monte Altissimo is seen in the Apuan Alps, Italy. With the blessing of Pope Leo X, Michelangelo personally designed a path that could get blocks of the white marble down from the mountain to be transported to Florence. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

The marble road to the Cervaiole quarry on Monte Altissimo is seen in the Apuan Alps, Italy. With the blessing of Pope Leo X, Michelangelo personally designed a path that could get blocks of the white marble down from the mountain to be transported to Florence. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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Workers known as ‘tecchiaioli’ examine marble at the Cervaiole quarry before extraction. In exchange for getting the operation going, Florentine authorities granted Michelangelo the right to extract as much marble as he wanted from Altissimo in perpetuity. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

Workers known as ‘tecchiaioli’ examine marble at the Cervaiole quarry before extraction. In exchange for getting the operation going, Florentine authorities granted Michelangelo the right to extract as much marble as he wanted from Altissimo in perpetuity. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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‘There is enough here to extract until Judgment Day,’ the Renaissance artist wrote to a contemporary. However, after several years of work to carve out a road Pope Leo X relieved Michelangelo of his commission and the San Lorenzo Basilica itself remains without a facade to this day. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

‘There is enough here to extract until Judgment Day,’ the Renaissance artist wrote to a contemporary. However, after several years of work to carve out a road Pope Leo X relieved Michelangelo of his commission and the San Lorenzo Basilica itself remains without a facade to this day. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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The primordial instruments such as levers, chisels and hammers later evolved into diamond-tipped wires, saws and heavy earth-moving equipment. Today the quarries of Altissimo are abuzz with the kind of activity that even a genius like Michelangelo probably could not have foreseen. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

The primordial instruments such as levers, chisels and hammers later evolved into diamond-tipped wires, saws and heavy earth-moving equipment. Today the quarries of Altissimo are abuzz with the kind of activity that even a genius like Michelangelo probably could not have foreseen. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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A refuge is seen at the Cervaiole marble quarry on Monte Altissimo in Tuscany, Italy. In the three centuries following Michelangelo’s time, the Altissimo quarries went through cycles of abandonment and re-discovery. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

A refuge is seen at the Cervaiole marble quarry on Monte Altissimo in Tuscany, Italy. In the three centuries following Michelangelo’s time, the Altissimo quarries went through cycles of abandonment and re-discovery. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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Today, the Henraux company owns the entire mountain, employs about 140 people and extracts marble from five active quarries. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

Today, the Henraux company owns the entire mountain, employs about 140 people and extracts marble from five active quarries. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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In the 19th century, the Tsars of Russia chose Altissimo marble for the construction of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg and more recently, it was used in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2007. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

In the 19th century, the Tsars of Russia chose Altissimo marble for the construction of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg and more recently, it was used in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2007. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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A worker cleans a marble sculpture at the Henraux factory in Querceta, Tuscany, Italy. Over the years artists such as Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Joan Miro and Isamu Noguchi have used Altissimo marble for their sculptures. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

A worker cleans a marble sculpture at the Henraux factory in Querceta, Tuscany, Italy. Over the years artists such as Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Joan Miro and Isamu Noguchi have used Altissimo marble for their sculptures. (Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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The Apuan Alps are seen in the background of a marble dealer’s warehouse, littered with slabs, slivers and blocks of marble in Carrara, Italy. While Michelangelo himself was unable to make use of the marble of his dreams, its use by artists and in architectural landmarks over the centuries --facilitated by his efforts to pave the road to extraction-- would certainly sit well with the Renaissance master. (REUTERS)

The Apuan Alps are seen in the background of a marble dealer’s warehouse, littered with slabs, slivers and blocks of marble in Carrara, Italy. While Michelangelo himself was unable to make use of the marble of his dreams, its use by artists and in architectural landmarks over the centuries --facilitated by his efforts to pave the road to extraction-- would certainly sit well with the Renaissance master. (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2017 12:21 PM IST
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