The Ancient Arsenals of Amalfi
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The Ancient Arsenals of Maritime Republic in Amalfi
In 2012 the Maritime Republics Regatta will be held in Amalfi Locals hope to win back the title that in 2011 they lost due to a long dispute with the Pisa crew. Nonetheless those who will not be able to attend the Regatta which involves the whole Coast, may get a glimpse of Amalfi's maritime atmospheres by visiting the Compass Museum.
The existence of Amalfi's Arsenals is documented for the first time in 1059.
Called with the Arab name Arsina, as the first ever Arsenals had been built in 698 in Nirthern Africa. The name changed with time like the arsenal itself: arsine/arsena – tarsienatus/tarzienatus – tarcinale/tarsinale – arsenale.
Amalfi's Arsenal was originally made of two aisles domus with two galleys each. The third aisle magazenum tarsieratus was used as a storage space for tools affissi,and for the preparartion of tar to apply on galley's hulls. The structure the Musuem has today is only made of two aisles, and only 10 if the original pillars, that supported the ceiling's cross vaults. These pillars where too destroyed during the terrible 1343 seaquake described by Petrarch in the Epistole Familiari during his stay in Naples. At the end of the XIX century the Arsenal was further reduced to allow for the SS163 road to Sorrento.
The Arsenal's origins are inherently linked to Amalfi's urban and commercial development.
Historical sources explain how shipbuilding had a multiplier effect on the town of Amalfi: an important and active manufacturing borough developed all around the arsenal. The back of the Museum saw the development ofPiazza dei Ferrari ,where artisans and smiths would work in close connection with the arsenals. On the other hand around today's Piazza Duomo there used to be many cobbler's workshops which gave ti this area the name Platea Calzularium. Furthermore around the Arsenals there used to be many religious sites such as S.Maria delli Ferrari's Church, S.Antonio Abate's, S.Pietro de Platea's, all located in the Southern part of today's Piazza Duomo nella parte meridionale dell’attuale Piazza Duomo.
The Arsenal gave an impulse for commercial development all over town, and the subsequent glory of Amalfi would have not been the same without the Arsenal, which today hosts the Compass Museum
The Museum opened on Dicembre 2010, including Amalfi City Museum's collection. The entrance to the Museum is on Piazza Flavio Gioia, there is a ticket fee of 2 euro to buy on the door, immediately after a short tunnel that leads into the Arsenal.
Entering the Museum the impact is very pleasing thanks to the great care taken to set up the exhibition.
There is more than just historical findings, as the clear aim of the Museum is to place local history within the greater frame of world history, from antiquity to contemporary.
The most interesting aspect of the Musuem is indeed the sense of progression from the days of the Republic to today, showing how Amalfi was enriched and grew to be known worldwide thanks to its constant interaction with different cultures and different people.
In the Compass Museum the feeling is of facing out to the world, reaching for large geographical and historical distances within the beautiful frame of the Ancient Arsenals.
The first part of the Museum is dedicated to the object that gave it its name: The Compass.
This great invention is described and explained by giving examples of the various types of compasses that were developed during the course of history, for geographical orientation. Starting from the finding of the Qumran Compass in Palestine in 1954 ending with NASA's use of the traditional Solar Compass on Mars until 2004. The curators' competence and rigour can be gathered by the fact that not once do they mention the trivial dispute between Amalfi and China, over who invented the Compass first, instead they provide an interesting bird's eye on the development of geographical orientation in general. Also the importance of the Compass is explained accordingly to Amalfi's important maritime role in the Mediterranean, conducting the exhibition towards a full understanding of issues related to commercial expansion and navigation laws.
An interesting set of geographical maps with relevant legends, show the expansion of the town of Amalfi along the Coast, and the nature of Amalfi's commerce in the Mediterranean.
To show Amalfi's hegemony on maritime commerce there is a set of reproductions of the Pandette Gisutiniane, and of theTabule Amalphitane, which ruled navigation around the Mediterranean. There are original copies of medieval Consuetudines, which were found in Vienna, bought back by the Italian government in 1929 to return to Amalfi.
Amalfi's commercial history is also documented with an interesting exhibit of currencies used by merchants, from the tremissi beneventano to the gold bisante the dinar,on the base of which since 969 Amalfi coined the Tarì, the local currency which developed thanks to Amalfi's support to the Fatimidi's rise to power in Egypt, which gave Amalfi right to receive concessions from all those who crossed Egyptian ports. Furthermore there are some XI century parchments telling of commercial transactions around the Amalfi Coast area, to give a slight idea of the type of commercial activity that Amalfi dealt back at home.
The second part of the Museum, is greatly enriched by the collection of the former City Musuem of Amalfi. Here the main subject is Amalfi's religious history, specifically in relation to S.Andrea's story. In a 1600 leather bound book, found in Paris in the S.Honorè convent, there are beautifully drawn 1220 miniatures narrating the story of S.Andrea's relics transfer. On a similar subject, there is a very interesting poster telling of the close link between Saints and the sea, giving examples of all Coastal cults linked to the sea. There are also two XVI century tuff sculptures of S.Giovanni e S.Pietro.
The last part of the Museum is about the most recent history of Amalfi, showing objects whose original intent was to describe local history, but with time they too have become historical exhibits.
There is a good selection of period costumes used for the historical parade of 1955, with Roberto Scielzo's original sketches and designs. From the same parade is also the winged horse figurehead from the galley that every year runs the Maritime Republic Regatta.
The bottom parts of the two aisles display some Roman ruins such as capitals, tombstones and slates, to account for the Roman presence in the area, which is further explained by yet another interesting and detailed geographical map.
The majority of elements are indeed located in the first aisle, as the second aisles tends to be left more empty to leave space for cultural events, such as a peculiar photo exhibition, where the twinned Japanese village of Seto and Amalfi are compared and result incredibly similar. Once again Amalfi's richness and strength is determined by contacts and interaction with foreign people and cultures, thanks to its great potential opening wide onto the rest of the world.