In the Northern Apennine mountain areas of Italy, around the city of Florence in Tuscany, a rare kind of limestone is found called “pietra paesina” or “Florentine marble”. The natural veins of impurities within the rock have arranged themselves in shapes that resemble mountainous landscapes, castles, and ruins. For this reason, the rock is also known by various names such as “landscape stone”, “ruin marble” and “ruiniform marble.”
The sedimentary rock is mostly made up of sediments from an ancient sea bed that rose up when the African Plate collided with the European Plate during the Mesozoic era resulting in the formation of a band of mountains that extends from Spain to Turkey. The immense pressure created by the movement of the earth’s crust fractured the limestone. The fractures in the stone were subsequently filled by iron and manganese hydroxide deposited by water percolating through the fragmented rocks creating the beautiful natural patterns. The cracks were later sealed by the deposition of calcite crystals. This event is thought to have occurred some 50 million years ago.
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Ruin marble was discovered in the 16th century, and since then they have been much sought after by collectors. In Renaissance Europe, they were highly regarded and were in much demand in the Royal courts. Cut and polished slabs of ruin marble were either displayed as individual decorative pieces or embedded in architectural elements and furniture. Sometimes the natural landscape in the stones were completed with painted figures, mythical creatures and objects.
Finding the perfect ruin marble is no easy task, because the patterns on the rock are random and chances of discovering one where the veins look exactly like a ruined city is pure chance. Besides, the pattern is hidden inside the rock and cannot be seen until you break it open.
Nevertheless, there appears to be no shortage of ruin marble specimens among collectors and jewelers. Depending on the complexity of the “scenes” within the rock, a palm-sized block of ruin marble, can be bought for anywhere between a hundred dollars to several thousands.
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A 17th-18th century wooden cabinet embedded with block of ruin marble. Photo credit: www.christies.com
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