Alghero: The land of red coral

Polipi di corallo rosso | Alghero paese del corallo rosso con Dranexperience.com

Corallium Rubrum (Mediterranean Red Coral) is an integral part of the identity , history and nature of Alghero.

Legends, tales and mysteries link the Red Coral, long mistaken for a vegetable, to the Catalan town of Alghero but what exactly do we know about the history, biology and market of this animal species? Find out together with Dranexperience.com.

THE STORY

In ancient tradition, coral was connected to blood; imagine that in Greek mythology the gorgon monster Medusa petrified plants with her gaze, turning them into corals. Greeks and Romans used Coral in pharmacopoeia while the Celts adorned horse bridles with coral. In classical times, slowly, coral is also seen as an ornamental work, and fishing, along with its processing, were practiced throughout the Mediterranean. Due to its impact on each country’s economy, the market was controlled by local authorities who issued permits for its fishing and sale upon payment of taxes. The supply chain was simple: The wealthy entered into contracts with boat owners who in turn relied on the corallers, the real players in the fishing business. Then the role of artisans, that is, the masters who transformed a raw product into high-value material, was crucial.

Going into detail regarding the connection between red coral and Alghero, one has to take a leap back to the Middle Ages when the powerful Genoese Doria family, which owned a great deal of land in Sardinia, collected huge tributes from the coral market. The situation on the island changed from about 1320, when the crown of Aragon came into possession of most of Sardinia, changing the balance of the political and economic system in their favor. However, the west coast still remained under Genoese control, at least from the point of view of the coral market.

In 1354, the crown of Aragon conquered Alghero, imposing on them the right to fish between Capo Mannu and Asinara. Thus began the long history that links Alghero to red coral.

AT THE SCIENTIFIC LEVEL

Corallium Rubrum (scientific name for Mediterranean Red Coral) is an animal species belonging to the Phylum Cnidarians and more specifically to the class Anthozoa. Its main characteristic lies in the fact that it creates colonies equipped with a calcareous skeleton and composed mainly of Calcium Carbonate. The one who creates the skeleton (it is nothing but the “poop” of the animal) is the tiny octopus, the living unit of the Red Coral colony. However, one must distinguish the word “Corals” from “Coral,” since the former refers to Anthozoans capable of creating colonies consisting of thousands of reef-forming polyps, currently found only in tropical seas. Instead, the word Coral refers to the organism that is unable to form barriers, such as our Corallium Rubrum typical of the Mediterranean Sea.

DISTRIBUTION

Speaking of the distribution of Red Coral, it can be said that it is well present throughout the Mediterranean as far as the African coasts, from the Cape Verde Islands to Senegal to the Canary Islands, in any case, the most abundant quantities are recorded in Sardinia (From Alghero to Oristano) and Corsica. They can be found from 10 meters up to 200 meters deep, and in shallow areas their habitat is mostly within caves and overhangs, areas however with little lighting and lots of hydrodynamics, these are the key factors that determine their survival.

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REPRODUCTION

Some knowledge about their reproduction, which occurs sexually, with separate sexes at the level of polyps. After emission from the male polyp, the sperm navigate in search of the female polyp according to an as yet unknown mechanism of attraction until they find and fertilize it. The young planula larvae develop in the first 20-30 days before emerging into the open sea. Thanks to the cilia with which the planula is equipped, it looks for a place to settle in order to develop into a new colony. (I remind you that all polyps are bound, at the base and to each other, by common tissue). One of the reasons why Corallium Rubrum, in the form of an ornamental object, is expensive is also due to the fact that its growth happens very slowly, 1 to 3 cm every 5 years (think that in the Portofino area the growth has been attested to be 1 cm every 15 years).

More information about biology in this link.

NUTRITION AND BREATHING

Red Coral is considered a suspensivore, in particular it feeds mainly on small planktonic organisms (shrimps, plankton) and is also capable of absorbing dissolved organic matter. Capture is facilitated by the presence of mucus lining the tentacles: after contact, the tentacles retract, bringing the material into the cavity for digestion. Not possessing an anal opening, all unassimilated substances and waste products are excreted through the one opening that also serves as a mouth, resulting in the slow formation of the skeleton that will later be the raw material taken by corallarians. Respiration is by direct exchange with water of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the nervous system is simple, consisting of a network of nerve cells, and lacking specialized sense cells.

THE LINK WITH ALGHERO

Walking through the historic center of Alghero, one breathes an air of history, tradition and art. Prominent among it all is red gold, so called locally the Red Coral (Corallium Rubrum), also found in the official coat of arms of Alghero, granted by King Peter IV in 1355, and it is no coincidence that Alghero is also called “The Coral Riviera.” Coral is harvested only by licensed fishermen (exactly 12) and is still processed by the skilled hands of artisans, who turn it into unique and timeless jewelry. Coral fishing was traditionally done using techniques that were devastating to the ecosystem, but recently and after years of work, a national red coral management plan. The Plan regulates the initial stages of a production chain, the artisanal processing of coral, so that there is a real and concrete protection of the raw material that for centuries has been an integral part of the economic fabric of the Torrese territory and, above all, of its history, tradition and identity.

Each year fishing takes place between May and October, and each fisherman may harvest no more than 2.5 kilograms of coral, through the use of an axe and at a depth of no less than 50 meters. Therefore, the use of underwater robots is prohibited.

If you are interested in Alghero and red coral, we have a perfect tour for you: Costs and availability in this link.

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THE TRUE VALUE OF ALGHERO CORAL

Over the centuries, the working of Alghero’s red coral has become more and more precise, presenting real works of art connected especially with local art and tradition. One example out of all is the inclusion of works made with coral in Sardinian clothing, jewelry, and gold buttons. Coral is worked primarily by the technique of engraving, which allows branches to be changed, using cuts, filings, abrasions, and sawdust. 

Alghero is also home to the Coral School, which makes it clear that its craftsmanship has maintained a very high level over time. At the market price level, the same varies depending on the size and color (lighter or darker depending on the depth in which it was taken). To complete a necklace for example, it sometimes takes years of work to find mostly corals of the same color, which is why a necklace of pure coral can cost up to 30 thousand euros.

THE CORALLIUM RUBRUM BRAND IN ALGHERO

The Corallium Rubrum brand was born in Alghero in October 2015, uniting artisans, traders, institutions such as the Porto Conte Park and representatives of trade associations. Thus, guidelines have been created to protect and enhance the red coral of Alghero, from the traders to the artisans via the corallarians who are the true creators and those who “risk” their lives at the bottom of the sea. The store, in order to obtain a license to use the trademark undergoes rigorous and periodic inspections, committing above all not to market products made from imitations of Corallium Rubrum in their establishments. Currently, there are about 20 companies with the brand name, and this only better directs customers who want to buy a product ti high quality and that is made only from Corallium Rubrum, as tradition dictates. The mark is a true certificate of competence and professionalism on the part of the workshop and the artisan himself. How to recognize the brand? Nature, Identity and History. The mark features branches of red coral (Nature), the A for Alghero (Identity) and the narrow streets of Alghero’s historic center (History) and the place where most of the stores are located. Happy vacations in Alghero.

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