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Pietra serena

the use of pietra serena

This stone has practically been the sole construction material used in the area, because it is plentiful, easily available, versatile and long-lasting, and also economical. In fact, it is not only used for the square-cut, dry-stone walls supporting the cultivated mountain terraces, but also for the structural components of houses (walls, roofs, columns, architraves, brackets, steps) and for decorative, finishing touches (parapets of stairs and balconies, floors, chimney pots, garden walls and balustrades).

There are entire villages and isolated hamlets on the mountainous slopes of the Alto Mugello - Scheggianico, Tirli, Castiglioncello, Rapezzo, S. Pelligrino, Piancaldoli, Coniale, Caburaccia, and Cerreta - that are constructed entirely from stone, everything from the paving stones on the roads to the chimney pots on the roofs of the houses. In these places it is not difficult to find exquisitely crafted details - fine decorative touches and functional solutions to problems - that bespeak long days of labour put in by dedicated master stonemasons.

Many items of furniture and other functional objects are also made of stone, for instance fireplaces, tables, chairs, statues and fountains, basins, vases, mortars; so too are tools or parts of work instruments: knife-makers' whetstones, weights on scales, olive presses etc.

The initial production of simple series of items was supplemented over time by increasingly fine and artistic work, including the creation of cornices and ornate objects; full-blown sculptures in the coats of arms positioned on the facades of noble houses; or in the bas-relief friezes and decorative geometric designs found in a whole range of sacred sculpture.

Each craftsman, whether he was an unknown stonemason or a noted sculptor, had an individual distinguishing mark (normally a letter of the alphabet or the stylised figure of a tool) that he reproduced on every piece of stone that he worked on. The master quarrymen were able by sight to distinguish between the mediocre and the best layers of stone, which was called pietra serena.

Today there are about twenty stonemasons (scalpellini), now mostly referred to as quarrymen (cavatori) - because they are mainly involved in the first phase of their work, the crafting of stone now often being conducted elsewhere, - operating in the Firenzuola area, grouped together in a co-operative. Some of them work as craftsmen, making quality products such as fireplaces, benches, etc. There are also stonemasons in other areas, for example at Marradi, at San Bavello in the council of S. Godenzo, and at Santa Brigida in the council of Pontassieve.

Translated by Jeremy Carden
Picture by Kee-Ho Casati


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