Palazzo Ricca is located at via Tribunale 213. The story goes that in the late 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 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
. In 1616,
it 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 into the "Bank of the Two Sicilies" in the early 1800s. After
the unification of Italy (1861), the institution became, simply, the "Banco di Napoli".
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, right) 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 other 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
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 recognises 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 millions 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