is a plant-like-shape formed by millions of unicellular creatures which live in
the bottom of the sea and are called celenterati (coelenterates). Their name
comes from a long tube which crosses their body, its name is in fact celenterio.
The colony of celenterati releases a deposit of carbonato di calcio (calcium
carbonate) which solidifies and takes various and different shapes. The most
common one is that of a little tree.
Centuries ago, the Mediterranean Sea, along the Sicily, Sardinia and Naples
coastline, was filled with coral; in fact it was in Sicily first and in Torre
del Greco (Naples) later that the art of carving and modeling coral was born. It
was and is not easy to catch coral from the bottom of the sea. First we have to
say that we have two types of coral: the false coral, which grows at a depth of
about 30/35 meters. At that depth the sun still influences the light and the
warmth of the water, so the coral remains whitish and soft; and the real coral,
which gets a bull-blood-like color and can be found at a depth of about 70/80
meters. The deeper we go, the darker and harder the coral becomes and is more
We have two types of coral as far as the color: the red bull blood and the
white angel skin. Both of them are precious but the most expensive is the second
one; in fact one kilo of that coral costs between 300/350 million lire (about
170,000 USD at the today rate of exchange).
Now, the banks of corals which were between Capri and Torre del Greco
disappeared since it takes about 100/120 years to have a small branch of coral,
and the artisans have to import the coral from Japan. But that coral is not as
precious as the one which used to be in our sea.
You can easily recognize a piece of Mediterranean coral from the one coming
from Japan: the red Japanese coral has a whitish vain along its entire body, the
Mediterranean one does not have it. It is the same for the angel skin coral, the
Japanese one has a reddish vein along its entire body while the Mediterranean
does not. On the other hand, the Japanese coral is larger that the Mediterranean:
in 1998 the Japanese caught a piece of coral of the weight of about 170 kilos,
while the heaviest one found in our seas (since the 1400) was about 470 grams.
The coral was also important in the past. It is said that the Salerno School
of Medicine (13th century) has used coral powder to take care and prevent
illnesses of the digestive apparatus. And it is still important today, since
coral is used in Pharmacy, for preparing tooth paste.
But the coral real destination is jewelry. People from every place of the
world come to Torre del Greco to buy a piece of art
made out of a branch of coral.