Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Palazzo Santoponte

In “Piazza Cavour”, opposite the “Palazzo Rosso”, we have the “Palazzo Santoponte”, built in the 1830's by the architect Giovan Battista Picchianti.On the first floor of this building was once active a workshop for the processing of coral, a very important source of wealth for the merchants of Livorno at the time. The coral was manufactured into beads and then sent to London on ships that had exported pepper to Italy.After the early sixteenth century diamonds were the main item in jewellery imports from India, and coral took first place in exports to the east, for a long time being an essential commodity in all trade with India.The western Mediterranean was the only source of red coral, the kind needed for the Indian market, Marseilles, Leghorn, Genoa, and Naples were centres for coral fishing and coral industries… In India it was used for jewellery and in cremation ceremonies, and served also as a symbol of social standing.Leghorn's importance as a centre of the coral trade and industry was described by a Jewish coral merchant from that place named Abraham de Castro: it is common for the coral fisheries to bring from the islands adjacent to Leghorn from six to eight thousand pounds weight of coral each boat…
About three hundred of such boats are employed in collecting in each of the coral fishing seasons for the market of Leghorn, besides which great quantities of coral are from time to time imported at Leghorn from France.

“Diamonds and coral” by Gedalia Yogev
(Leicester University Press, 1978)

See also: Diamond and coral (DeCastro Family Story)

20 comments:

Jacob said...

Wow, what a fascinating post! Who knew? Coral, diamonds!

And the building looks in pretty good shape for being so old. I mean it's just slightly older than I am!

I didn't see anything about how the building is being used now.

J Bar said...

Beautiful building. Interesting post.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Kaori said...

The historical facts about coral are very interesting! I never knew there was such a large coral industry. Wonderful post about the lovely building :)

Per Stromsjo said...

Quite a bit of globalization, transportation and creation of wealth in that day as well. Not everything under the sun is new.

tapirgal said...

Very interesting. I love the historical aspects and information about trade. I can also visualize the beautiful coral. But it also boggles my mind that every country and industry was willing to exploit these resources to such a degree. I wonder about the current state of the coral reefs and if they left anything for the fish.

Dina said...

Diamonds and Jews everybody knows. But coral?!
Now we know. Thanks!

Wolynski said...

You're quite the historian - hope you didn't take the B&W - that would make you a little older than I thought.

Love those simple, square buildings - classy.

Cezar and Léia said...

Thanks so much for this splendid historian lesson, and I'm enchanted by the women pictures!Very interesting,I think they worked hard there. :)
Léia

marshall said...

Bella questa storia del corallo. Bella, ben documentata e, per come la vedo io, in un certo senso anche patetica e commovente.
Questa della produzione del corallo a Livorno, mi fa scoprire una città diversa da quella che mi ero immaginato finora: non solo porto, acciaieria, pesca, ma anche raffinate produzioni artistiche artigianali.
---
L'argomento mi piace e m'interessa molto: chiedo il permesso di ripubblicare l'articolo sul blog aggregante Aquaeductus, fra qualche giorno e dopo essermi un poco approfondito sul corallo.

Saluti.
Marshall

Birdman said...

Very interesting building and story behind it.

Small City Scenes said...

Such historical information. Who knew? Coral---very interesting. The pictures of the women working are very striking. MB

B SQUARED said...

I never realized Coral was an industry.

VP said...

@ Wolynski - I'm probably a little older, but not that much...

@ marshall - Sei il benvenuto, ma ricordati che, per ovvie ragioni, non sono in grado di approfondire molto i miei post.

Lois said...

The building does look like it has been well taken care of! Processing the coral look like hard work too.

Halcyon said...

Interesting story! I am wearing a coral necklace today that I bought in Hawaii.

cieldequimper said...

That's a fascinating post. Is there still some activity today?

JM said...

Great information and vintage images! And of course the architecture of the palace is beautiful!

P.S. Sorry VP, but haven't got any information about the sculpture and I also like it. I believe that, once the art piece is on that area, I should know who the author is, to say the least...

Gunn said...

Interesting and nice!
The italian women had STYLE also in the old days!

Hilda said...

This is such a fascinating history, VP. Thank you for the very interesting read. The archival photos remind me of the ones I've seen of Filipino women in the late 19th century processing tobacco leaves into cigars for the European market.

I can only imagine the destruction that the industry wreaked on the ecology of your seas. I hope that after all these centuries, the coral reefs around Livorno are healthy again.

Oh, and Santoponte is a lovely building. But it seems to be wanting for a couple of new tenants.

Ilse said...

Wow! What a great post. So informative. Must be a family treasure to have a piece of jewelry with the coral. Love the old photographs. And the building still looks great today.