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Palazzo Ricca—

the Bank of Naples & the Historical Archives

Palazzo Ricca (photo) is located at via Tribunali 213. One story goes that in the mid-1500s some lawyers loitering on the stairs of Palazzo Capuano, the Hall of Justice cum debtors' prison, were flagged down by an inmate. He was waving his coat and wanted to "loan" it to them for five carlini, the sum he needed to get out of jail. They agreed. With that, the grand and benevolent institution of the pawn shop in Naples was born, with said enterprising legal fleagles opening up shop right there in the prison. The business soon moved into new premises and opened as the Monte e Banco dei Poveri.

That colorful story may or may not be true. The Bank of Naples, itself, has this to say about its own history:

"The origins of the Banco di Napoli date back to the public banks in religious locations, which emerged in Naples in the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the first charitable institutions to go into banking was the Monte di Pietà, founded in 1539, whose philanthropic purpose was to provide interest-free loans on pawned goods. Later, the Monte di Pietà opened a depository bank that was recognized with a viceregal proclamation in 1584.

Another seven institutions were then opened [in Naples]: the Sacro Monte e Banco dei Poveri (1600); the Banco Ave Gratia Plena or Banco della Santissima Annunziata (1587); the Banco di Santa Maria del Popolo (1589); the Banco dello Spirito Santo (1590); the Banco di Sant' Eligio (1592); the Banco di San Giacomo e Vittoria (1597); and the Banco del Santissimo Salvatore (1640). These eight banks prospered for over two hundred years."

(Such institutions in Naples were in the tradition of the many such church-run non-profit pawn houses that had started to open throughout Italy in the mid-1400s in order to combat usury.) In 1616, the original Monte di Pietà transferred to Palazzo Ricca and in 1632 became a public institution. The adjacent Palazzo Cuomo was added to the premises in 1787. The name Banco dei Poveri would remain until a consolidation of all such public banks in 1794 by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon produced the "Banco Nazionale di Napoli," then becoming the "Bank of the Two Sicilies" in the early 1800s. After the unification of Italy (1861), the institution became, simply, the "Banco di Napoli".

note on St. Cajetan

I was kindly reminded a few days ago that August 7 is the feast day of St. Cajetan (San Gaetano in Italian) (1480-1547), one of the promoters of the original Monte di Pietà in 1539. The saint was born Gaetano dei Conti di Tiene (also Thiene) and founder of the order of the Clerics Regular, better known as the Theatines. (He should not be confused with his contemporary, Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, prominent theologian of the Counter-Reformation.) San Gaetano is the patron saint of the unemployed, gamblers, job seekers and good fortune. His remains are in the Theatine church of San Paolo Maggiore in Naples. The church is at the precise center of the old historical center of the ancient city (#33 on this map). The square is, indeed, named Piazza San Gaetano and there is a prominent statue of the saint in the square. The statue is from the years 1657-70 and was the work of the indefatigable Cosimo Fanzago. Originally, it was to be an obelisk, a "plague column" like others in the city, but was never finished.

 "String" of bank documents
from the 1600s   

My main interest in the Bank of Naples is that it was recently bought out and is now called the Sanpaolo Banco di Napoli. When I first saw that name, I thought: "Hmmm, San Paolo is the name of the Naples soccer stadium. My bank has been bought by a football team!" Even worse, the Naples club is wallowing in the nether realm of the C league (as Minor League as you can get). What does this mean for my money? As it turns out, Sanpaolo is also the moniker of some high-powered northern Italian manipulator of mammon, so I was wrong. On the other hand, I tried to use my Sanpaolo Banco di Napoli piece of plastic in a Sanpaolo Banco di Napoli on the island of Sardinia, foolishly figuring that since the island is part of Italy, there would no problem:

"We can't take that."

"But it's your bank! It's my bank! It's our bank," I said, deftly angling for some solidarity.

"Yes, but only in Naples."  (That is an exact quote). So, maybe I wasn't wrong.

My secondary interest in the bank has been that it maintains a library and historical archive, one of the most exhaustive of its kind in the world, documenting centuries of  financial life of Naples and Southern Italy. I have never used the archive. (It is housed at the original site, Palazzo Ricca. The bank, itself, is now on via Roma/via Toledo, photo, left.)  My plan is to flash my Sanpaolo Banco di Napoli card at them and see if works in lieu of the letter of recommendation from a university or research institute, signed in sextuplicate with attached urine sample just to get in and read some newspapers from the 1600s.

Due to the above-mentioned consolidation decreed by King Ferdinand in 1819, the archive contains historical material from all of the early banks in Naples. All documents from eight public banks, founded between 1463 and 1640 were then archived together in Palazzo Ricca. It became the "General Archive"; since 1950 it has been called the "Historical Archive".

After various incarnations as hock shop, bank, credit institution, juggernaut of greed, limited company and whatever else, the bank has now created a separate Instituto di Napoli Foundation, which is responsible for running the archive. From the Foundation's published description of itself:

Through the Historical Archive, with its Library and Newspaper and Periodical Section, the Instituto di Napoli Foundation recognizes its link with the past and the bond with its tradition...the institution pursues social objectives and promotes economic and cultural development...it undertakes activities in the fields of scientific research, education and training in the humanities and economics...safeguarding and enhancing the national heritage and activities related to the arts, archaeology, museums and the environment...

The archive is housed in approximately 300 rooms on four floors of Palazzo Ricca and contains almost three million items, ranging from liability records to client records and other bank instruments such as loan records, investments in national debt certificates, real estate transactions, etc.  Again, from their own description: "The detailed payment information...housed in the  Historical Archives allows [the tracing of]...events that took place in Naples and its provinces, as well as throughout Italy and in some cases even Europe and America."

The Istituto also runs the library with its Newspaper and Periodical Section, also on the premises of Palazzo Ricca. Currently, the library consists of approximately 32,000 legal, economics and financial essays and monographs, as well as 17,000 miscellaneous works and 48,000 Italian and foreign financial newspapers and periodicals. Additionally, there are a total of 250 "relics", most of which are made of silver and gold, marking some of the most significant stages in the history of the Banco di Napoli. These relics include plaques, commemorative medals and gold coins from 1806 onwards.


[related item at Treasures of the Bank of Naples]

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