Visiting Alghero, you will be delighted by this beautiful town "of many faces," where you can still breathe history and tradition. We all know the beautiful beaches of the Sardinian coasts, the crystal-clear sea, the excellent food and the friendliness of the Sardinian people; however, what we don't know is that Alghero is, also, the city of the red gold, the red coral.
While walking through the characteristic streets of the old city, we are surrounded by the shops that sell the Red Coral, an expression of the culture and tradition to which the artisan activity is strictly linked.
Alghero's coral is also locally called "red gold," due to the wealth it produces at an economic and social level. The coral of Alghero belongs to the Corallium Rubrum species; it has been known since ancient times as one of the "finest in the whole Mediterranean" and is appreciated above all for its ruby red color.
The tradition of using coral dates back to very ancient times, and you can find poetic inscriptions dedicated to this precious material already in the Ovid’s writings. Even in the official "coat of arms of the city," granted by King Peter IV in 1355, we find a coral branch emerging from the waves of the sea, clinging to a rock. No coincidence that the area of Alghero is also called the Coral Coast.
The coral is collected only by authorized fishermen and is still worked today by the skilled hands of the artisans, who transform it into unique and timeless jewels. Coral fishing traditionally used to take place with devastating techniques for the ecosystem and with a severe environmental impact, but today it is subjected to rigorous controls.
Every year around 25 licenses are granted for fishing between May and October, and each fisher can collect no more than 2.5 kg of coral. Fishing is only allowed in immersion with the use of an ax at a depth not less than 50 meters. Any use of underwater robots is prohibited.
Red coral is not only the Alghero symbol, but it is one of the main symbols of Sardinia. The collection of this precious material dates back to very ancient times. It is said that already in Ancient Rome, this beautiful gift of the sea was used to create jewelry and ornamental objects. For over two thousand years, coral fishing has experienced a long period of uninterrupted luck. In 1600, right in the Baroque, it reached the highest commercial rating. This flourishing period was followed by a crisis in the sector, after the discovery of Sciacca coral and Japanese coral.
While yellow gold fever developed in America, in Sardinia, there was the "red gold fever." The Sardinian fishers had to face fishers from the continent, from Tuscany, from Liguria, and even from Spain. In fact, in around 1870 there were about 200 coral fishing boats in the Alghero harbor, with 6000 sailors, but only 24 ships belonged to Sardinian fishers. Even under this aspect, Sardinia was a land of conquest and whoever arrived, tore and took away these treasures of the earth without caring about the terrible damage one caused to nature.
But the fortune of the coral comes from the symbolism of magic and superstition that men wanted to give it. The mythology reminds us of the legend according to which the coral is born from Medusa’s blood, who was a mythological monster. The coral becomes an amulet that drives away evil spirits, brings good luck, protects newborn children and soldiers in war. This symbolism was therefore accompanied by giving corals as protection from the forces of evil.
Over time, the role of coral in culture and tradition has become increasingly important; in some areas of Sardinia, it was used along with gold buttons, as a way to measure the richness of female clothes and jewelry. Over the centuries, processing has become more and more accurate, presenting real works of art. The coral is modified with the engraving technique, which allows the branches to be changed, employing cuts, filings, abrasions, and sawdust. In this way, we take the best part of each coral, which becomes like a precious stone to be set in magnificent jewels. Traditionally, coral is combined with gold, but new combinations prefer pearls and diamonds to create timeless treasures.
The tradition of crafting coral has maintained a very high level over time, also thanks to the creation of structures dedicated to the training of coral artisans. Already in the 1950s, the city of Alghero founded the Coral School, and to date, the training takes place at the State Institute of Art, where a Coral Section was created.
This intricate work requires very sophisticated equipment and the coral, before being worked, must pass into the decompression chamber, since it is fished at very high depths. The raw coral is sold in large pieces to the craftsmen who work on it. The price varies according to size and color. To complete a necklace, sometimes it takes years of work; you need to find corals of precisely the same shade, and that's why a necklace of pure coral can cost up to 30 thousand euros.
In Alghero, there is also a fascinating Coral Museum, located inside the beautiful Villa Costantino, where you can retrace the history of this tradition, and learn legends related to Alghero's red gold. Villa Costantino is a liberty style building built by the Costantino family in 1927. The villa is located just outside the city walls. The entire museum itinerary has undergone a complete restyling in 2016, which makes the visit complete from a historical and documentary point of view.
The Coral Museum is part of the Alghero Museums circuit, which groups together places of cultural and archaeological sites related to the history of Alghero, the city of many faces.
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