One of the most common questions we are asked is how many varieties of Carrara marble can be distinguished. In order to be able to answer it, it should first be recalled that the materials known as “Carrara marble” are extracted from a large region in the north-west of Tuscany, belonging to the Apuan Alps mountain range. This one, in turn, consists of five mining areas: Carrara, Massa, Lunigiana, Garfagnana and Versilia. The Carrara area is where mining activity was started by the ancient Romans as early as the 1st century B.C., and its mining capacity is three times the total output from the other four areas. This is why Carrara is so famous that all materials extracted from the region of the Apuan Alps around the world are called “Carrara marble”.
Mining areas are divided into many marble basins. For example, the Carrara area is divided into four basins: Pescina-Boccanaglia, Torano, Fantiscritti-Miseglia and Colonnata. Each basin has “active quarries” (currently in operation) and “inactive quarries” (those in which the mining process has been stopped). For example, the Fantiscritti-Miseglia basin has 30 active quarries and the Colonnata basin 29. Considering that one quarry produces several varieties of marble, it is quickly understood that the deposits of the Apuan Alps make up hundreds of types of stone.
Despite such a large number of varieties, there are only a few known names around the world. Naturally, therefore, some people wonder why materials with a different appearance are sold under the same names, such as Bianco Carrara, Venato or Calacatta. If you are interested in understanding the causes of the situation, please read the following points: 1) Traditional names, meaning those used by Carrara people to describe and sell their marbles, are much more numerous than you might think. Here are some examples: Ordinario or Bianco Ordinario, Bianco Venato, Bianco Macchiato, Venato, Macchiato, Bianco Statuario, Statuario Venato, Statuario Macchiato, Paonazzo or Pavonazzo, Paonazzetto or Pavonazzetto, Bardiglio, Cipollino, Fiorito, Misiarchio, Bianco Chiarchio, Ordinco Chiarchio, Calacatta or Calacata, Arabescato, Brouillè, Cipollino Zebrato, Zebrino, Bianco P. The adjective ‘traditional’ defines both names from hundreds of years ago (such as Ordinario, Venato, Statuario, Paonazzo, Bardiglio) and those introduced at the turn of the 19th and Of the 20th century (Calacatta / Calacata, Arabescato). Beginning in the second half of the 20th century, some Carrara retailers promoted the names so far known and used only within their community, such as Venatino, Statuarietto. 2) The traditional names were originally associated with a key attribute of each marble, namely appearance, quality or suitability for a particular execution. An exception worth mentioning is the name Calacatta derived from the Carrara region called Calacata. 3) Traditional names were constructed to distinguish between the main varieties of marble quarried in the Apuan Alps. Each variety has several or more than a dozen subtypes, the name of which is formed by combining the name of the main variety with another term, sometimes referring to a characteristic of the material, sometimes to the name of the quarry or place of origin. 4) Some of the traditional names have disappeared from the stonework dictionary (eg Macchiato, Statuario Macchiato and Fiorito), and the materials to which they were assigned have been given new terms. 5) The naming of Apuan marble takes different meanings depending on when, where and by whom it is used, so one name can have many meanings. 6) Whenever a name is commonly associated with nice, good quality material (you could say it has become a “brand”), there are always vendors who refer to it as materials that do hardly resemble the original version. 7) Whenever a marble that has not previously been mined on a large scale appears on the market, many people tend to compare it with one of the known types, even though the two materials do not have much in common. Thus, the “new” variety takes the name of the existing material. 8) A large number of stone importers around the world use the name “Bianco Carrara” or only “Carrara” to denote most of the Carrara marble they offer. This is a big mistake that has led to many misconceptions over the years.
While many people in Poland have never heard of Ordinario (short for Bianco Ordinario), Italians have been using this name for centuries. In Italian, “bianco” means “white” and “ordinario” as an adjective – “ordinary”, “typical” or “common”. Bianco Ordinario is therefore the most quarried marble in the Apuan Alps. Nevertheless, the name Ordinario may have been originally associated with the most common forms of use of this variety of marble, and not with the mere fact of its availability. Well, white marble that meets the requirements of sculptors (i.e. the material that allows you to carve the smallest details and, consequently, extremely realistic sculptures) was called Bianco Statuario (in Italian the word “statuario” is an adjective that literally means “suitable for creating sculptures”), while white marble, perfect for creating the so-called “opere ordinarie” or “lavori ordinari” (from Italian “opere”, “lavori” means “works”, “works”), that is, “ordinary, common, typical realizations” such as floors, facades, cladding, stairs, fireplace enclosures, countertops and simple altars, busts, monuments and garden sculptures were called Bianco Ordinario. Both theories are equally plausible but have not yet been confirmed. The meaning attributed to the name Ordinario in the Carrara community refers to the considerable amount of material excavated, but there are records in 19th-century scientific publications that clearly state that the adjective “ordinario” as part of the name of marble describes its use in “opere ordinarie”, “lavori ordinari “,” usi comuni “(” common uses “), and” statue comuni e colossali “(” communal and large-scale sculptures “). In summary, the names of Apuan marbles can have different meanings depending on when, where and by whom they are used – consequently, more meanings can be assigned to the same name.
The key characteristics of the Ordinario are: fine to medium coarse grain, background in shades of pearl gray, light gray, gray, dull white, dark gray / light gray veins and spots, often blurred, short and scattered and non-aligned in one direction (some Bianco subtypes Ordinario also have gray-brown-orange growths). Reading the above description, you get the impression that it reflects the well-known material – Bianco Carrara… In fact, Bianco Carrara is the Bianco Ordinario from the Carrara quarries.
Why is the name “Ordinario” not popular in the world? Why don’t even Italian record exporters (with a few exceptions) use it nowadays? From our point of view, there are three main reasons: 1) Over time, the term Ordinario has been assigned too many white marbles, including dolomite and non-Apuan Alps. Carrara-based companies, aware of this situation, felt the need to define their local Ordinario in terms of grain (compact, fine to medium coarse), composition and technical characteristics. So the names Bianco Carrara Ordinario or Bianco Ordinario di Carrara were adopted, which were then shortened to a simpler one – Bianco Carrara. So what about the Ordinari (plural of Ordinario) coming from other areas of the Apuan Alps? In the vast majority of cases, entrepreneurs promoting these marbles give them names after the regions where they are mined, previously using the term “Bianco”. 2) In Italian, apart from the meaning of “ordinary” and “ordinary”, the adjective “ordinario” also means “average”, “uninteresting” and “inconspicuous” (exactly like “ordinary” in English) – these are definitely not the best terms for high-quality marble. So it should come as no surprise that stonework companies prefer to use the much more attractive name Bianco Carrara. 3) In the Carrara marble community, the exact meaning of the name Bianco Carrara is somewhat controversial. There is a group of people who say that the name also applies to marbles outside the Bianco Ordinario group. This is certainly due to the fact that several of the Carrara Quarry Bianco Venato marble subtypes look so much like the Ordinario that it can be difficult to distinguish them. Accordingly, the use of two names (Bianco Carrara Ordinario and Bianco Carrara Venato) to denote hardly distinguishable marbles seemed confusing and impractical to many natural stone sellers, who consequently chose to use the name Bianco Carrara for all Carrara marbles characterizing with a pearly-white and grayish background and moderate veins. To complete the topic, it should be added that in the past some Carrarians used to use the name Bianco Ordinario to describe a material of average aesthetic value, while marbles with particularly attractive features were divided into: Bianco Latte (milky white), Bianco Chiaro (light white, negligible veins) and Bianco Unito (solid white) for a material characterized by a white, uniform background and with negligible growth. This is most likely another factor that gave rise to the belief that Bianco Ordinario and Bianco Carrara are two different materials. However, more careful research reveals that the above names were synonyms for the same marble (Bianco Carrara Ordinario) based on the background color and the amount of veins in a given block – the same principle is used by today’s retailers, classifying the material into categories C Extra, C, CD and D . The name Bianco Chiaro deserves special attention, as from the mid-nineteenth century to the sixties of the twentieth century it functioned not only in relation to some Ordinario subtypes characterized by a light background color and subtle veins, but as a general name for the entire variety. The sound of the Bianco Ordinario, apart from the “common” one, also evoked associations of “average”, “uninteresting”, “inconspicuous” stone, which could confuse potential customers, giving the feeling of buying a medium-quality material. The reverse was the case with the enticing name Bianco Chiaro, which has a positive connotation in Italian (“chiaro” in the case of color means “bright”). In the following years, Bianco Chiaro was completely replaced with the name Bianco Carrara. An interesting fact is that the Carrarians themselves never used and still do not use the above names. Among themselves, they use the name Ordinario, and to denote a specific subtype, they use the name of the quarry or mining site, sometimes preceded by the word Bianco.