Here you can see me, the saucy birthday girl (with long hair!) in requisite hard hat in the heart of a mountain of white marble! Equidistant from the top of the mountain to sea level, and one side to the other, this really is the heart of the mountain. Through to the other side (from where I entered) is the actual quarry where Michelangelo chose the marble for his statue of David!
As a sidenote, there was a lot of graffiti in the caves. I believe this is all graffiti made by the five man crew that cuts marble here, but it was really interesting. There was a giant color tree near the entrance, some cave-painting-like drawings, and a sketch of Michelangelo’s David (how fitting!). There were also inflatable swimming toys in a large pool of water near the Virgin Mary, which I thought was really cute and amusing.
So, yeah, Virgin Mary. This is an instance where, when they pulled a giant block away from the wall, a small irregularity that pulled away with it. This particular one occured on Christmas Eve (Buon Natale), and the workers recognized in the formation an image of the Virgin Mother with child and created this little altar to it. They regard her as the protectoress of the quarry.
When we got out of the caves, we were taken on a tour of the history of marble quarring (what English verb is there for this?), and the tour-guide was really entertaining. He gave the entire tour in Italian, and joyfully pressured one of our teachers into translating, especially joyfully the insults the marble movers used. The horn in this picture? It works. And he had a huge collection of historic tools, including Roman ones.
Before we went up to the quarry itself, we actually visited a studio where they carve the marble. The owner of the studio gave us a personal tour, and I think the little girl was his granddaughter. At any rate, she was crying and tugging on his pants until he picked her up. Note how the little girl has marble dust all over her dress? Marble everywhere! We actually saw people in the process of carving statues, and I probably inhaled quite a bit of this dust... but it was so pretty, and so worth it.