Postcards from Italy

Carrara Marble: A History Written in Stone

What do the buildings of Harvard Medical School, Michelangelo's David, and lardo di Colonnata have in common? The answer lies deep inside the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany, above the city of Carrara. Here, a prized marble - bright white with undulating soft blue-grey veins - has been quarried for more than 2,000 years.

carrara-marble-tour-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

It was the Ancient Romans who first used this flawless limestone to build such lasting monuments as the Pantheon and Trajan's Column. Over the following millennia, the marble was so intensely extracted from over 650 quarries dotting the mountain slopes that the area has produced more stone than any other area on earth. More than half of Carrara's quarries are now either abandoned or exhausted of their supply, and the most prized grade of Carrara marble, the pure white statuario beloved by artists and architects during the Renaissance, was completely depleted by the beginning of the 20th century.
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Italy Underground

With its millennia of history and the rise and fall of a number of great empires and civilizations, it comes as no surprise that Italy has fascinating layers hidden beneath its modern towns and cities. Any construction that involves digging underground (especially deep underground for modern public works like subway lines and parking garages) inevitably unearths a valuable archaeological find, slowing or halting the project for years while the Cultural Ministry preserves what it can.

What is bad news for Italy's builders is good news for Italians and tourists who can visit many of these underground masterpieces, from Etruscan burial grounds to Roman ruins to Medieval crypts and catacombs. An extra bonus: most of these sights are a refreshing break from the heat of the summer sun above, so a great way to while away the hottest hours of the day.

On your next trip to Italy, don't limit yourself to the country's sights above ground, but explore some of the Bel Paese's treasures which lie below. Here are a few of the country's most interesting "buried treasures":
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Surviving Italy's Heatwave

The biggest news in Italy right now is the historic heatwave, which began a few weeks ago and seems to reluctant to leave...especially in the famously torrid cities of Rome and Florence.

hot-in-italy(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

If you are traveling in Italy during the summer, record breaking heatwave or not, you are likely to run into some sweltering Mediterranean weather. In this country in which air conditioning is not a given, it sometimes feels as if there is no respite. Here are some tips for finding a way to enjoy hot summer days in Italy without risking heatstroke!
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Italy's Best Frozen Treats

There's no getting around it: Italy is hot in the summer. Though you may find respite if you happen to be hiking its highest peaks or cooling your heels on the coast, the inland countryside and the major cities can be almost unbearable on humid summer afternoons.

If you feel yourself dragging from the Mediterranean heat - or, more likely, feel your kids are dragging from the heat - there's nothing like a frozen treat to use as an incentive, a reward, or simply a lifesaving pick-me-up to make it through those last few hours until the sun begins to set and temperatures - and tempers - cool off a bit.

ice-cream-tower-montefalco(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Here are a few icy sweets you'll find in Italy that may just make the difference between momentary moodiness and a major meltdown:
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