that Ponticello, crossroads of artisans and shopkeepers

In the period between the ‘500 and the’ 600 the shops of the “violas”, “ligutari” or “citarrari” Palermo were numerous and manufactured lutes, violas, guitars, violins and mandolins

The painting “Group of musicians” by Jan van Bijlert or Bylert

But did you know that a Palermo, there via del Ponticello at the Albergheria, in the past it was a crossroads of craftsmen and was full of shops full of artifacts such as furniture, doors and musical instruments?

In fact, I imagine the Via del Ponticello, almost dreaming, as one small portion of Venice, where the bridge that spanned the Kemonia it had to act almost as a stage for artistic inspirations and, why not, also as a stimulus for amorous encounters (maybe some serenades, not neomelodic at least I think and hope!)

Professor Giovanni Paolo Di Stefano talks about the aspect of the artisan development of luthiers and / or makers of musical instruments in an article published in “PER Salvare Palermo” n. 26 in the year 2010 (page 4-5).

Assuming that I refer to the article mentioned above, I would like to include my considerations related above all to the presence of La Valle family and of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (I believe owned by the Autonomous Case Popolari Institute), founded precisely by the La Valle family, lying abandoned in front of the Church of San Nicolò all’Albergheria (with restoration works alongside, indeed, of reconstruction).

But let’s go back to shops, it is interesting the aspect that the author points out in the article on the presence, since the fifteenth century, in the territory under consideration, of an interesting mixture that intertwines two adjacent but different religions, Christianity and Judaism.

The area of ​​the Ponticello falls, in fact, in Jewish quarter of the city (before arriving at the Via dei Calderai and the door of the “Ferro”) and the artisanal realities that gravitated in the area have as their main fulcrum the “Maestranza dei Falegnami” connected, obviously, to the Confraternity of San Giuseppe and which was based in ancient Church of Sant’Elia di Porta Giudaica.

We all know of the transfer of the Church of Sant’Elia by the Maestranza dei carpintami to the Order of the Theatines to allow the construction of the magnificent Baroque Church which, rightly, was dedicated to St. Joseph, as we also know the subsequent construction of the first Oratory of the Carpenters (lying on the entrance portico of the University) and the construction of the current Oratory.

And this area – that is, from the back of the Church of the Theatines up to Casa Professa – must be imagined full of workshops of master craftsmen (mainly carpenters) who gathered in the main consulate of the Maestranza which in turn contained other small consulates, each with a own consul, brotherhood, congregation and / or company, which regulated the life of the members and decided both on the technical aspect (appointment of masters, laborers, control of products, etc.) and on the financial aspect (market prices, etc. .).

The specializations within the main workforce, as the author specifies, were: “caseggiatori di walnut and intaglio” (furniture makers, carvers, but also organ builders), “masters of white opera” (producers of semi-finished products), ” coachbuilders “, the” masters of the sea “(boat builders) and” tornari, viol and formari “a single consulate that included all the craftsmen, including the luthiers, who worked on the lathe”.

In the period between the ‘500 and the’ 600 the shops there were numerous “violas”, “ligutari” or “citarrari” from Palermo and mainly manufactured lutes, violas, guitars and later violins and mandolins; this production continued until the early 1900s with the presence of the luthiers Camillo and Domenico Di Leo, Antonio Sgarbi, Alfonso, Enrico and Alfredo Averna.

Also in the Ponticello area there were also the builders of organs and harpsichords including the famous La Valle which I mentioned earlier; the La Valle were one of the most important families of organ builders between the 16th and 17th centuries closely linked to the Carmelite order (the Church of the Carmine in primis).

The eldest of the brothers, Raffaele, in addition to being a talented organ builder also had to be a musician of great quality, given the annual contract he stipulated with the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli di Caccamo (1576) with the commitment to play the organ built on the main church feasts (State Archives of Palermo, Notai, I, vol. 10628); Raffaele La Valle, incidentally, was invited by Pope Paul V to build an organ (but given the advanced age and the precarious health of the craftsman, the deal could not be realized).

The wealth of the La Valle is manifested when Raffaele himself, in 1621, had the Oratory of Santa Maria Maggiore all’Albergheria built at his own expense (something that only the nobles could afford) where, obviously, he was buried on April 8, 1621 , as he had expressly requested in his will drawn up on March 25, 1621 (and we miss you!).

From the mid-1700s, however, the organ builders turned into piano makers, an activity that had enormous economic fortune especially in the 19th century thanks to protectionist laws aimed, as the author writes, “to encourage the productive activities of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and hinder, by means of large duties , the importation of foreign products, including musical instruments “and among the Palermo artisans of that time there were Salvatore Bruilotta, Salvatore La Grassa, Antonino Ragonese and Francesco Stancampiano, (with various shops between the Ponticello and in via Rua Formaggi) .

In conclusion, a faded memory remains bitterly of an interesting neighborhood that gave a strong artistic impulse both in terms of music and craftsmanship, therefore, my dear readers, passing through Via del Ponticello remember that here we “built” materially the mosica (to Totò).