The Monregalese (the area covered by the ancient province of Mondovi, including the mountainous region between the Tanaro and the Pesio) in the province of Cuneo, is one of Piedmont’s few marble reserves, and was certainly its most important one in the period when the use of coloured marble was at its peak (17th-18th centuries).
The quarries of the past provided a wide range of marbles, with white and coloured varieties including black, violet, red, persichino and yellow.
These have very attractive qualitative features, but were seldom available in significant quantities.
The use of Monregalese marble dates back to Roman times: some gravestones found in Vicoforte and Mombasiglio are made from Verzino and Bigio di Frabosa varieties.
The late 16th and early 17th century was a particularly important time for the recognition and use of some of the area’s most important materials.
Vico stone was “discovered” as a unique decorative and construction material by Ascanio Vitozzi, probably in the years around 1590, when he was working on the restoration of the Citadel of Mondovi.
He used it in a masterful way in the Sanctuary of Vicoforte from 1597, and certainly contributed to its increasing use in Turin over the following years, although the sanctuary remains the most important and famous example of its use.
Aside from Vico stone, Langa, Cuneo’s other sandstone, has also been used as ornamental and structural material in monuments of considerable historical significance. The most important of these is the sixteenth-century church of San Lorenzo in Saliceto, one of Piedmont’s rare examples of Renaissance architecture, with sumptuous decorations on all the architectural features of its facade.
A document by Giovanni Botero from 1607 states: “... The other places include Vico, from which a new devotion to the Blessed Virgin takes its name. Duke Carlo Emanuel has built a church in her honour, with a chapel decorated with magnificent materials and artworks in which he wishes the Dukes of Savoy to be buried.
During the work, while quarrying in various site, seams of beautiful marble were discovered, the best of which is a black marble with particular metallic veining.” These were some of the marbles varieties from Frabosa, mainly Grey and Black Frabosa, first used in the Sanctuary, after which it became known and used throughout the Duchy.
During the 17th century, other types of Monregalese marble were discovered and used primarily in Turin, due to the direct control over marble by the central power of the House of Savoy.
Yellow Frabosa marble was used in the churches of Santa Maria al Monte, Santa Teresa and San Lorenzo in Turin, and later, in the eighteenth century, by Juvarra in the Chapel of Sant’Uberto in Venaria Reale.
The 18th century was undoubtedly the golden age of Cuneo marble. A wide range of marble types were quarried, particularly the coloured varieties.
Persichino marble from Casotto and Val Corsaglia was greatly in demand. It was used by Juvarra in the Royal Chapel of Sant’Uberto in Venaria Reale and in Superga, where Casotto Persichino found its finest expression in the six three-metre columns adorning the main altar and the two side altars of the basilica.
Marble varieties from Cuneo also became widely used: Busca Alabaster, which had already been extracted since the 1600s, was produced intensively throughout the eighteenth century and used in many churches, both locally and in Turin; Moiola Seravezza, which can still be seen in Sant’Uberto alla Venaria and several churches in Turin; Valdieri Bardiglio, which from the mid-eighteenth century replaced Frabosa Bigio for large-scale decorative use throughout Piedmont.
Monregalese marble enjoy great prestige in the early nineteenth century, as seen in its extensive use in the church of the Gran Madre di Dio in Turin, built in 1814 to celebrate the restoration of the House of Savoy after the Napoleonic occupation. Vittorio Emanuele I had the church decorated entirely with marble from Piedmont, most of which came from the Monregalese area.
The church’s interior has eight large columns made from Casotto Breccia (a marble that had been previously used by Vittone for the majestic decorations of the chapel in Casotto Castle), dark grey Frabosa is used for the bases of the columns, and the altars and balustrades are made from different varieties of Persichino from Val Tanaro and set on Moncervetto Seravezza bases.
The extraction of known marble varieties increased over the course of the century, due in part to the improvement of the roads through Val Tanaro. The production of new types also developed, including Grappiolo, a white statue marble from Garessio, Bardiglio, from the same area, and Moncervetto, which became one of the most widely used varieties of marble in Piedmont.
The first decades of the twentieth century saw the international success of Cipollino Dorato, a marble from Valdieri with excellent decorative features, which was exported and used all over the world: in London (County Hall Council Chamber and Westminster Cathedral), Buenos Aires (the Italian Club Building), Bangkok (Royal Palace), Tripoli (Sidi Hamuda Mosque), Havana (Government Palace) and Sofia (Military Academy Building).
The extraction of Luserna Stone is famous.
The stone is a variety of gneiss characterised by its ease of working and splitting, regular schistosity, great strength and durability, which have favoured its widespread use in construction for centuries.
Bargiolina stone is produced in slabs that are smaller in size, but of exceptional quality.
It is a quartzite that comes in a variety of grey and yellow shades and used with natural split finishes. It was already praised for its excellent quality in the 16th century by Leonardo da Vinci.
The rock is brought down using explosives.
It is divided into blocks by drilling, loading the holes with explosives and blasting.
The extracted stone is then transported to workshops, where it can be given various finishes, according to its intended use.
These can include polishing with abrasive wheels or flame finishing, which involves intense heating followed by rapid cooling with jets of water.
Another type of finish is bush hammering, obtained with compressed air percussion tools.
The stone can be marketed in the form of naturally split slabs and blocks.
The Local Area
The stone industry in the province of Cuneo is composed of 219 companies registered with the Chamber of Commerce.
The type of activities in which they are involved range from quarrying and mining to stone masonry (cutting, shaping and finishing).
In terms of distribution within the province of Cuneo, the highest concentration of this business sector is in the municipalities of Barge and Bagnolo, and around Alba, areas known for their abundant resources of local stone varieties (Luserna and Langa).
Stone has been extracted from the area’s quarries and mines for millennia, providing the mineral raw materials that have always been fundamental to human civic life and social and economic progress.
The geological and territorial features of the Province of Cuneo make it a mining province of primary importance in terms of quarried stone.
Cuneo’s quarries provide a large quantity and variety of basic products, not only for construction but also for various other industries. These include aggregates for concrete, limestone for cement, lime and various other uses, clay for bricks, and silica sand for ceramics and glassware. Its building and decorative stone sector is also of particular importance.
Quarrying activities are subject to public authority authorisation under a specific regional law introduced in 1978.
This is based on recognition of the principle that quarried resources, like all environmental assets, are part of the collective heritage, while also respecting the rights of landowners to dispose of them.
Together with control of extraction activities, the public authorities have the important task of planning and programming, aimed at balancing proper use of mineral resources in technical and economic terms with the protection of the environment and optimal use of other potential locally available resources.
Curator — Camera di Commercio di Cuneo