The Trouble with Michelangelo's Marble

Presented November 13, 2015 at the Civita Institute's Benvenuti in Famiglia fundraising event


DAVID B. WILLIAMS is a geologist and author whose writing career evolved from his career as an educator. After majoring in geology at college, he moved to Moab, Utah, to be in his favorite geologic landscape and to work at a non-profit environmental field school, Canyonlands Field Institute. He taught and coordinated natural history programs for people of all ages for five years, followed by three years as an interpretive park ranger at Arches National Park. These teaching experiences fostered his desire to become an author because he saw writing as a better method to more widely share his passion for the natural world.  He is the author of A Naturalist’s Guide to Canyon Country, and Stories in Stone:  Travels Through Urban Geology, and his latest book is Too High and Too Steep:  Reshaping Seattle’s Topography.

Augustus Caesar was famous for saying of Rome "I found a city of brick and left it a city of marble." His boast referred to two stones: Carrara marble, later used so beautifully by Michelangelo, and travertine, the holey stone that allowed the Romans to erect the Colosseum. No stones in the building trade have as long or as interesting history as these two.  Used not only in Italy for more than 2,000 years, they also lend dignity to buildings around the world. 

David will highlight the stories of Carrara marble and Italian travertine, as he addresses Italy's beautiful building stones. He will discuss how Michelangelo was almost crushed to death twice in his pursuit of the marble, how travertine from the Colosseum was recycled in the Middle Ages, how a modern geologist studying travertine made a discovery that had implications for life on Mars, and why these two rocks have such enduring stories. His talk will give you new ways to see architecture and history.  And in case you wondered, David will show you where you can see travertine and marble in Seattle.  For more about David, go to his website

Learning Objective #1

Participants will see how the volcanic stone called "tuff"--used extensively in the buildings of Civita di Bagnoregio, the Italian home of the Civita Institute--lends its properties to enduring architecture.

Learning Objective #2

Participants will learn how marble, specifically Carrara marble, developed its particular characteristics that have captivated architects and artists for more than 2,000 years, as well as its potential as a building material to have devastating and deadly repercussions.

Learning Objective #3

Participants will learn to "read" travertine's historical evidence of environmental conditions 20,000 years ago, and view SEM photos which demonstrate how travertine found near Viterbo and Civita di Bagnoregio, led to an hypothesis that stone from Mars contains evidence of life.

Learning Objective #4

Participants will explore the effects of historic and current day quarrying of marble, travertine, and other stones upon the environment, human lives, and the implicit costs of building with stone.