Trapani, a fascinating city with an excellent geographical position on the north of the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the south-west of the Mediterranean Sea, has always had a splendid production of coral objects and fine jewellery.
- The tradition. The city is famous for its fishing of the red Mediterranean coral which is one of the main sources of income. The fishermen used to go out on boats called a�?ligudellia�? and travelled throughout the waters for the entire fishing season, from May to September, trying to catch as many as marvellous red coral branches as possible. From the beginning of the A�15th century the Jews from the Maghreb area were the first to produce coral objects. Later with the a�?siculia�? artisans coral became an important object of trade and was used in gold jewels and copper objects. In the beginning of the 17th century the corporation of fishermen was established and they set out rules and regulations to obtain a licence to undertake this trade; defining how it should be distributed and the conditions of sale. Twenty-five boutiques A�opened in a�?Via Torrearsaa�? also called a�?Via dei corallaria�?, which today is still one of the most important streets in the centre of the city. Coral production reached its economic boom in the 18th century when there wasA� world wide demand for coral jewels and ornaments A�from sovereigns, princes, cardinals and Popes. These fine works of art were precious jewels for liturgical and domestic use such as chalices, sacred containers, figures from the Nativity scene or simply good luck charms. The production of coral had its decline around the 19th century because it became more and more difficult to find the raw material.
- The characteristics. The coral masters often worked in collaboration with other artisans such as bronze workers, goldsmiths, silversmiths and sculptors. In order to realise a piece of jewellery the coral was first polished, cut, filed and then cut in small perforated pieces with a stone grinder. The first technique used was called a�?a retroincastroa�? in which the coral was inserted in the copper which was previously perforated; they used wax and canvas as a glue and finally the back part was covered with a plate of golden copper with incision decorations . From the beginning of the 17th century the masters of Trapani changed the technique by sewing the pieces but with this procedure the coral pieces easily separated from the copper. In order to bring the coral to its natural colour they purified and polished it. Platimiro Fiorenza has remained the most outstanding master; his boutique is in a�?Via Osorio 36a�? and in 2004 he won an award for maintaining the teaching of this art from the UNESCO club of Trapani. Among his most famous works we can find a holy water font and the a�?Madonna of Trapania�? made in gold, coral and precious stones. These were both realised for Pope John Paul II. The Madonna is displayed in the Vatican Museums. Another important boutique in a�?Via Antonino Roasi 11a�? belongs to Alfonso Graffeo, A�a skilled creator of beautiful jewels (necklaces and brooches) decorated with coral pieces in shapes of leaves, roses and other flowers. The a�?Conte Agostino Pepolia�? museum situated in the ex-convent of the Carmelite fathers; opened at the beginning of the 20th century and holds some of these Sicilian precious works of art.