| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
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main index © Jeff Matthews entry Aug 2005 rev. Aug 2011
the Bank of Naples & the Historical Archives
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.
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.
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".
"String" of bank
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.
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
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
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.