The prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a succulent plant belonging to the Cactaceae family. The fruits are covered with thorns or bristles. Their colour can vary both in the skin and in the pulp that surrounds the helical-shaped seeds. The prickly pear, originally from Mexico, arrived in Europe in 1493 with the return of Christopher Columbus' expedition. The plant then naturalised in the warm regions of the Mediterranean basin. In Italy, it is found in Sicily and its smaller islands and in the south of the peninsula, where it has acclimatised very well. The prickly pear plant in Mexico has a very curious use: it is used to breed a parasite, the cochineal, from which a natural dye, carmine, is extracted. In Europe, this process is followed in Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands.
At the foot of the Apuan Alps, Carrara is unique in the world for its marble quarries. The “white gold of the Apuan Alps”: this is how the marble of Carrara is defined, a precious stone with which important works have been realised and that has made this town, for centuries devoted to its extraction and processing, great. One of the first people to venture into marble quarrying were the Romans who, by inserting beams of fig wood inside natural fissures in the rock, filled these with water until they were completely impregnated and caused the rock to split. This extraction technique remained unchanged, if not with minor variations, until the Renaissance when Michelangelo began to frequent the Carrara area to directly choose the raw material for his works: it was from Carrara, transported along the Arno, that the block from which the Maestro sculpted the famous David came. Marble thus became an important raw material for the construction, furnishing and decoration of public buildings and patrician residences. Even today, skilful artists and craftsmen still work this material with mastery, creating stupendous works of art and decorative objects that become true furnishing accessories.