Going from the eastern to the western side, the new rhythmical, beating sound of the stone-cutters substitutes the metallic sound of the picks used to extract the minerals from the iron and that of the carts along the rails heading for the furnaces; as far back as the Villanovan age another of Elba's precious resources was being used: granite.
Whoever walks along the paths around San Piero, Cavoli, Seccheto and Fetovaia is always very surprised to come across remains of work sculptured from the rocks: columns, altars and tanks lie forgotten in the ancient quarries, telling us much of the past.
Although first Etruscan and later Roman utensils, pestles and millstones found in these areas, as well as hillside graves and fortresses prove granite was used as far back as prehistorical and Etruscan times, it isn't really until the Roman period that granite from Elba is considered a precious mineral to be worked and exported to the most important places in the Empire. Vasari reminds us that 7 of the columns in the Pantheon, 12m high and 1,5 m in diameter, were made from granite that came from Seccheto, and that during the excavations at the Quirinal, the Palatine and the Colosseum, columns chiselled in Elba were found. There is also one German historian (J.Noggerath, Archiv. fur mineralogie, Berlin, 1844) who maintains that there are 18 big columns made from granite from Elba in the Aquisgrana Cathedral, seemingly taken to Cologne by the Empress Elena, mother of Costantino, and then transferred from Cologne to Aquisgrana by Carlo Magno.
But the exportation of granite from Elba continues up to the present: the Pisans use granite columns from Elba to embellish their Dome, the Baptistry, San Michele in Borgo and San Frediano; the Medici use it for the Giardino di Boboli, as a base for the altar of San Lorenzo and to embellish the Cappella dei Principi, their last residence.
The granite quarries, however, have had their ups and downs, depending mostly on how well - or badly - the owners ran them, but when in 1937 the State confiscated them from the Zimmers, a German family, (whose excellent running much improved the development both of the quarries and San Piero itself), the stone-cutters decided to form a cooperative so that they themselves could run them and make any important decisions. In this way the Filippo Corridoni Cooperative was founded, and in 1970 it had 150 stone-cutters. Today, although the number is much smaller, the products are still first class and are suitable both for public and private buildings.
Infoelba advice: go for a walk one day in San Piero and take a close look at the streets, the squares, the fountains, the doorways and the walls of the houses. Then go to Rio Marina and do the same. All the mens' hard work, their culture and their history can be found there: in Rio, on the dark, iron dust walls of the old houses that sparkle in the sun, and in San Piero in the granite squares, silent as they snooze in the midday sun, rich in history of men and their ancestors.
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