registered among the 150 companies
of the National Historic Archive
The origin of coral has been lost in the mists of legend for centuries: Ovid in his “Metamorphosis” and Pliny the older in his “Naturalis historia” both attributed coral the same mythical genesis; the blood from Medusa’s terrible head, cut off by Perseus, dripped into the sea and turned into coral.
With its warm and bright colour, its marine origins, its ambiguous nature, coral must have had a profound effect on the early Mediterranean peoples who started working and disseminating it throughout the world.
It is not a plant, even though it has branches, and as André Peyssonnel, a doctor from Marseilles, discovered only early in the 18th century, it is not even a mineral, even though it is petrified.
It is in fact the calcareous secretion of a polyp colony.
Red Mediterranean coral fascinated all those people who came into contact with it, creating particular links among them, based on its recognized wonder powers.
Some archaeological sites in Sicily, Sardinia and Syria where ornaments in coral have been found, would lead us to believe that coral was already known thousands of years ago, but it is evident that the ancient Greeks valued it either as a jewel or as a medicine.
Alexander the Great’s ambitious plan to unify East and West as one large empire, not only through military campaigns, but also through cultural exchanges enhanced by heavy commerce, melted together peoples of different cultures and customs and thereby helped the diffusion of coral as far afield as India.
Pliny gives precise evidence of this spread in his “ Naturalis historia” saying : “Indians value coral as much as Romans value Indian pearls, the cost varying according to the importance given by each population”.
Coral fishing and working were carried out throughout the Mediterranean countries and from there, coral was exported to the known world, following in reverse the routes used to import spices, silk, ointments and other precious goods.
Despite the significant distance, coral became deeply rooted in the customs of those eastern nomadic peoples where it was even used as an ornament for their horses, as a protection before battles.
It seems that the systematic fishing and working of coral in Italy began in Trapani (Sicily), where the craftsmen soon became master carvers, specialized in inserting small pieces of red coral into the decorative gold artefacts used on religious vestments and home furnishings.
This art was treasured by the local Jews who, once they were forced to flee, would take their knowledge wherever they settled; this is why the title of “capital of coral” has often moved, causing the rise and fall of Trapani, Genoa, Livorno and Marseille .
Since 1400 Torre del Greco has been known as a centre for specialists devoted to the art of coral fishing.
Its famous fishermen were so adept at their craft that they ventured as far as the African coasts with their small boats called “coralline”.
Unfortunately their life was made very difficult in the 18th century, due to the dangers of being attacked by Arab pirates and the rivalry and friction with the French Compagnie Royale d’Afrique, who was trying to impose a monopoly on coral fishing.
As a result, in 1780 coral fishers from Torre asked the Bourbon government for more protection and regulation for their industry, and this petition led to the official publication of the “ Coral Code” in 1790. Furthermore, the convenience of locating the working and selling of coral in Torre del Greco itself where the raw material was easily available did not go unnoticed.
In 1790 the “Royal Coral Company” was established, which granted people from Torre a monopoly on their precious “red gold”.
Unfortunately this company was not successful and the efforts of the Bourbons to support an initial boost to coral-working “in loco” didn’t give the desired results, but before long, the same remit was undertaken by Paolo Bartolomeo Martin from Marseilles, who in 1805 obtained a 10 year licence and monopoly by Ferdinand IV (also approved a year later by Joseph Bonaparte) and finally built the first factory in Torre del Greco, in 1805.
Since then the history of coral in Torre del Greco grows intertwined with the history of De Simone ‘s family in fact an ancestor of his probably worked as an apprentice at Martin’s factory and later in 1830 set up his own business, the same we refer to when we write about our origins.