The History of Coral


     Coral 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 precious.
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.