Stampa Articolo

The construction of boats (galley, galleasses, vessels, bricks) in southern Italy between 1500 and 1800

Tavola Strozzi, Neaples, S. Martino Museum, Aragonese Galley

Tavola Strozzi, Neaples, S. Martino Museum, Aragonese Galley

di Maria Sirago [*]


The paper presents the results of my studies on shipbuilding in Southern Italy in the modern age and on the wood used for ships in various historical periods. At first, rowing galleys were used for the fleet; then from the second half of the 1500s galleasses were built, rowing and sailing. Finally cannon vessels began to be built. Then in the 19th century steam navigation began. Various types of boats, as polaccas, were also built for the merchant navy, perfected in the second half of the eighteenth century. Then they were replaced by brigantines or bricks.

During the Aragonese period there was a golden period in which the Neapolitan arsenal was reorganized, and the fleet of galleys and merchant ships was rebuilt. The most used Mediterranean ship was the galley (from Greek γαλέος, shark, a long and narrow warship, powered by oars, with one or two masts with lateen sails, armed with a spur, like those in use by the Miceneas and perfected by Romans. It usually had 13-20 benches per side, with three rowers per bench.

Bartolomeo Crescentio, an engineer working for the Papal State, in his book Della nautica mediterranea (1601: 5-7) specified the type of wood to be used for the galleys: oak for the hull and the deck, elm for the benches, fir for the masts and antennas, beeck for the oars, poplar for the banquettes, walnut for the stern.

At the end of 1400, after the descent of Charles VIII, the Aragonese monarchy entered in crisis, so Ferdinand the Catholic took advantage of it to conquer the southern kingdom (Sirago, 2020a).



The maritime policy of Spanish kings during the modern age (1503-1700) 

After the Spanish conquest of southern Italy (1503), the Kingdom of Naples became the main coastal defense against Turkish and Barbary attacks. Accordingly, in a short time a new Neapolitan fleet with galleys and other small ships was built with Calabrian wood [1] to reinforce the Spanish naval force, mainly with the help of Genoese admiral Andrea Doria and his cousin Antonio, who signed many shipbuilding contracts (asientos) to build galleys and get their maintenance and repair. It was only when other Mediterranean fleets – from Malta, the Papal State, Tuscany and Savoy – supported Spain, that Ferdinand the Catholic and Charles V could resist the aggressive expansion of the Turks and of the new Barbary states, so rearming Spanish superiority in the Mediterranean, where the notorious pirate Khayr al – Din (called “Barbarossa”), later admiral of the Ottoman fleet, was ravaging coastal towns. In 1535 Carles V managed to conquer Tunis; but in 1541 he suffered a heavy defeat in Algiers (Sirago, 2018a).

Philip II continued his father’s policy, reorganizing the Spanish fleet and the auxiliary ones of Naples and Sicily.  In those years the Turks and the Barbary people had becoming increasingly threatening, going so far as to besiege Malta, the island of the Knights, in 1565, defended by the Spanish general “de la mar” Don Garcia de Toledo (Sirago, 2018a).

From that moment a general rearmament began; in 1565 the expenses were listed for four new galleys given to General Alvaro de Baçan, first marquis of Santa Cruz, specifying the price of the wood used, including 36 large beech boards for the sides and 1000 for small finishing works and 24 of alder for the schifi (support boats), to which sails etc. were added for a total of 16.609.1.17 ¼ ducats [2]. 

Price of the wood used for four new galleys (1565),

4 hulls

3700 ducats

36 big poplar boards

21, 3 ducats

Carpenters etc.

4800 ducats

1000 poplar boards

276 ducats

4 stern of ships

486 ducats

24 alder boards

4,4 ducats

For a Turkish galley, plundered and purchased by Don Juan de Austria in 1573 in Messina, at the price of 6.467.3.17 ducats, the cost of the wood used was estimated on 1800 ducats, about a quarter of the total cost [3].

From 1566, after the attack on Malta, It was ordered to army many galleys in Naples, searching every territory for all wood possible at an affordable price: 

«… con la fabrica de galeras que en el reyno se hazen, que se concierten (comprar)  a precios combinientes y en los montes que ay en el reyno y repartimientos que en cadauno se hazen … la madera que se ha da tener»[4]. 

 In a few years Naples became a large shipyard managing to supply 30 galleys for the battle of Lepanto (1571), commanded by Giovan Andrea Doria. The Spanish and allied fleet (Papacy, Tuscany, Savoy) gathered first in Naples, where the supreme general Don Giovanni of Austria had arrived, then in Messina, where the Knights of Malta and Venetians, with new galeasses, arrived (Sirago, 2021a).

The naval armament continued even after the victory at Lepanto, since don Giovanni was busy defending Tunis, retaken from the Turks in 1573. The same year It was decided to increase the Neapolitan fleet to 50 galleys for which in 1574 the king stipulated an asiento (contract) with the general of the Neapolitan fleet Alvaro de Baçan [5]. However, due to lack of money, He was only able to arm 40 galleys, 10 of which were built in Naples (Fenicia, 2003:110, n.44).

On March 1 of 1574, the viceroy cardinal of Granvelle, Antonio Perrenot, wrote to the king that he had given orders to find all the wood necessary to construction of new hulls. He expressed his concern because there had been many cuts and no reforestation had been done: He therefore feared that the wood for the galleys would soon run out, so it would have to be bought far away, at a high price [6].

           Fig. 3 Naples, shipyard, 1618, J. Van de Velde

Naples, shipyard, 1618, J. Van de Velde

In 1577 It was decided to build a new shipyard at the foot of the Maschio Angioino for the construction of the galleys, completed in 1582, designed by the Tuscan architect Vincenzo Casali. It was controlled by a council presided over by the general of the Neapolitan galleys, Juan de Cardona, who depended on general commander of the Spanish fleet, Alvaro de Baçan, since 1576, and was responsible for controlling the necessary material, especially the loads of the wood (Sirago, 2018a: 164-167).

But this was the last war effort. The sovereign’s attentions were turned to the North, where in 1576 Don Juan de Austria was sent to repress the war in Flanders. Therefore, in the same year It was decided to reduce the Neapolitan fleet to 28 galleys, saving 120.000 ducats per year from the disarmament of the 12 galleys (Sirago, 2018: 190).

The same 1576 the order was given to find wood for the construction of twenty galleys and six galleasses modelled on the Venetian ones, which contributed greatly to the victory at Lepanto: so were built four galleasses (two of them had been built in 1576-78, the others in the early 1580s) Capitana San Lorenzo, Patrona Napolitana, Girona and Zuniga. They were very easily armed, carrying between them 21 guns, 14 little guns, 14 little colubrinas, 31 “pedreros” and other armaments.  Their gunpowder allocation, which averaged 125 quintals per galleass, was exceeded by only four other vessels in the fleet. The galleasses sailed under the command of Hugo de Moncada with the Spanish Armada, defeated by England in 1588. Also, the Girona and the San Lorenzo sank and de Moncada died [7].

 A galeazza (Sbonski de Passebon, 1690).

A galeazza (Sbonski de Passebon, 1690)

Since the beginning of the 17th century, the construction of vessels had been under discussion thanks to the new studies about it. In relation to it, Carlo Maria Cipolla, in his book Guns, sails and empires (1965) talked about the use-introduction of sails and guns on rigged vessels as a real technological revolution. As a matter of fact, starting from the end of the 16th century, an animated debate arose around the construction of this new type of sailing ships, which was marking the end of an age, from human powered technologies to the “machines”, which completely changed combat systems. In 1611 Tome’ Cano, a Spanish author, published an essay about shipbuilding applied at the construction of vessels with the measurements of the wood to be used.

Starting from the 1580s, a group of skilled shipbuilders from the Repubblica of Ragusa (today’s Dubrovnick) drew up some contracts (“asienti”) to build vessels in Castellammare’s shipyard. They were Pietro de Yvella, a famous captain of the Indie’s squadron and his cousin Stefano de Oliste, who between 1579 and 1580 had provided a ship for the war against Portugal. Then in 1588, they had signed the first asiento to build in the shipyard of Castellammare (suitable for the construction, due to its dept) 12 galleons weighing 700 tons each, renewed two years later and, again, in 1594 (Sirago, 2018a: 207ss.).

But in The Spanish council of war had been discussing the opportunity of a complete renewal of the fleet since 1616, so the Spanish “Armada del Mar Océano” was created between 1617 and 1623. And since 1617  Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo y Mendoza was named “Capitán General de la Armada del Mar Océano or Armada de Barlovento” (Sirago, 2022a).

Naples, vessel under construction (1600), San Vincenzo Tower, Filippo Napoletano, Naples, Plymouth, Museum, into A.a. V.v., Civiltà del Seicento (1984).

Naples, vessel under construction (1600), San Vincenzo Tower, Filippo Napoletano, Naples, Plymouth, Museum, into A.a. V.v., Civiltà del Seicento (1984)

An important contribution to the Armata was given by Naples since 1623, with a whole squadron, consisting in eight vessels and a “petaccio”, or mothership, which was aggregate to the Spanish one. On April 26th, in the same year, viceroy duke of Alba drew up an asiento (contract) with Giorgio d’Oliste, son of Stefano, which included the same clauses as the one signed in 1603, and that was renewed many times in order to detail building operating methods, for the construction of three vessels in the shipyard of Castellammare or in Naples, near the San Vincenzo tower (“lanterna” or lighthouse) (Sirago, 2022).

The viceroy also ordered to complete the Ossuna’s galleon (1600 tons), impounded from the deposed viceroy, who had been imprisoned in Spain, accused of betrayal because, as a viceroy, He could not have his own vessels, nor could he engage any “private wars”, as he did against Venice (Sirago, 2018a: 243 ss.).The cost of the completion was 27.000 ducats for wood for mast and antennas, to which were added other materials, as sails and artillery, for a total cost of 167.375 ducats [8].Then the viceroy he decided to sign an asiento contract with another captain from Ragusa, Cristofaro Martolossi, who had rented one of his ships to the Neapolitan fleet in the past years and ordered the captain Giorgio Fontana, son of the architect Domenico, to check the construction of the two vessels, especially the main and foremasts [9].

A real Seal Ocean Armada was being arranged starting from 1657, when Andrea d’Avalos, prince of Montesarchio, made a contract (asiento) with king Philip IV for the construction of eight vessels and a mother ship. So, in 1666 the viceroy Pedro d’Aragona decided to build a dock in the harbour of Naples to have vessels easily repaired in the Capital. This was the only work done in the 17th century in this port because It was fundamental for the organization of the Armada, and, as a consequence, for the Spanish fleet. From that moment on, the prince of Montesarchio became one of the main expert “consultants” for naval armaments: in 1683, at the age of seventy-four, he was appointed a member of the war council, and He kept on arranging the Armada and rigging some privateers to protect the kingdom from pirates, as he used to do when He was young (Sirago, 2022a). In 1693 a budget was drawn up of the money spent on the vessels of the army remaining in the port of Naples or in that of Baia, including that for the wood necessary for the mainmasts and foremasts (842 ducats) [10]

At that time, the Spanish monarchy was suffering a recession, but It was also worried about the problems to solve after the death of Charles II, still young, but sickly and without heirs. Consequently, the prince of Montesarchio decided to use the wood coming from the Sila for building ships, instead of that from northern Europe, which was too expensive [11].

Unfortunately, that was a fatal choice, because the vessel San Carlo, built in Baia between 1696 and 1697, was miserably shipwrecked on his first voyage. The prince ordered the building of some other vessels throughout the 18th century, but, when Charles II died, the war of the Spanish succession stopped any other plan for armament (Sirago, 2022).

The Austrian age (1707-1734)

In the Austrian age (1707-1734), the bodies of commerce had to be reorganized to increase this sector, which remained in the hands of foreigners throughout the Spanish viceroyal time. The fleet for the defense of merchant ships and coasts, attacked by Barbary corsairs, was rebuilt under the control of the shipyard Council and the viceroy Carlo Borromeo (Sirago, 2016).

Castellammare di Stabia, Francesco Cassiano da Silva (1700), into G. Amirante M.R Pessolano, Immagini di Napoli, ELECTA, Napoli, 2005.

Castellammare di Stabia, Francesco Cassiano da Silva (1700), into G. Amirante M.R Pessolano, Immagini di Napoli, ELECTA, Napoli, 2005

Upon his arrival, in 1710, He gave order to replenish the Neapolitan shipyard with 100 oars cut in the Cilento mountains necessary for the 4 galleys in construction in Naples and four vessels in the Castellammare’s and Baia’s port [12]. In June 1712 He sent the captain Sebastiano Tixi, chief builder of the shipyard, to inspect the woods to find the best wood for the two galleys under construction and for the new vessel San Leopoldo [13]. So, on September 3rd, masts and antennas arrived from Calabria (Sila)[14]. More wood was transported to the shipyard the follow year to increase the work together with other materials, artillery, anchors, etc. [15].

Viceroy Wirich Philipp von Daun, who arrived in Naples in 1713, also took care of completing the naval constructions, having wood transported from Fiume (Rijeka, in Croatia) by vessels San Gennaro and Santa Barbara and some tartans (merchant ships) [16].

In 1730 was decided to repair the Neapolitan shipyard where naval works could continue: in fact, it was ordered to purchase 12.000 ducats for of wood vessel and 6.000 for a new galley [17]. And in 1731 was purchased wood to build 2 hulls of 70-gun vessels [18].

Upon the arrival of Charles of Bourbon in 1734, there was still a vessel under construction in the Neapolitan shipyard, sunk by the Austrians before fleeing (Sirago, 2016: 96).

Vessel under construction, into Maresca Passaro (2011).

Vessel under construction, into Maresca Passaro (2011)

The first Burbonian age (1734-1806)

The Neapolitan kingdom became independent when Charles arrived in Naples, in 1734. Since then, the economic, political and social situation of Southern Italy radically changed. The ministers serving young king soon spread European mercantilism in the kingdom. Plans were made to restore the most important port and revive trade reforms (Sirago, 2004: 33ss.).

First, the king and is ministers needed to create a royal fleet to become a legitimate part of the European political scene, made up of 4 galleys and some vessels. The fleet was also important as a defense against pirate galleys. The construction of the first armed ship St. Filippo Real (64 guns) started in 1736 and ended two years later (Formicola Romano, 1990).

To develop a fruitful naval program, It was necessary to have wood available: so, the practical men of the Neapolitan shipbuilding were sent to the Calabrian and Abruzzo forest to be able to mark the useful trees to cut at appropriates times. In the Regia Sila of Cosenza, good fir, “zappini” (little pines), beech and oak were found: the fir trees were useful used for larger mats and antennas [19]. In 1737 a warship was deployed in the port of Tropea (Calabria) to escorts the Procidan “martingane” (merchant ships) loaded with wood, often plundered by corsairs [20]. Other wood was found near Naples, in the woods of Capodimonte and Baia, in Cervinara (Avellino). But sometimes trees from Ponente (Genoa) were also purchased. The success of the construction depended on the seasoning, which had to last two or three years. In 1756 King Charles prohibited the cutting of wood without authorization, even that owned by private, because everyone had to contribute to the creation of the fleet to fight the corsairs (Formicola Romano, 1990: 67-70).

Carpenter tools (Maresca Passaro, 2011)

Carpenter tools (Maresca Passaro, 2011)

For the reorganization of the commerce trading treaties were made first with the Ottoman Porte (April 7th 1740) (Mafrici, 2004), then with the regency of Tripoli (June 3rd 1741) (Pirolo, 2017) to trade with the ports of the Mediterranean Sea, which had been excluded in the past because of the corsairs. Later, trade treaties also concerned in the Baltic and North Sea, in 1742 with the Kingdom of Sweden in 1742, in 1748 the Kingdom of Denmark, then in 1753 with the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Galanti, 1968. I: 186) and, finally, in 1787 with the Russian kingdom (Sirago, 2018b).

 Calabrian xebec (Bayard, 1832)

Calabrian xebec (Bayard, 1832)

The interest for the North Sea and the Baltic area, shown by king Charles of Bourbon from the beginning, derived from the need of getting some raw materials only available in northern Europe, particularly wood for masts and iron for guns, both used by the Royal Navy for the new 64-gun vessels (Sirago, 2012; Pingaro, 2016). 

In that period the galleys were slowly replaced by the fast and light xebec, Mediterranean sailing ships of Arab origin, with lateen sails, with a slender bow, three master hulls Formicola Romano, 1990: 71ss.). 

At that time the merchant navy, mainly assembled in the shipyards of Piano and Meta (Sorrento), Castellammare di Stabia, the island of Procida and sometimes Vietri (near Salerno) was formed by small units which could not cover a long distance. However, since 1750, king Charles promulgated some new laws to promote the development of the merchant ships: some polaccas and “pinchi”, also with guns, and tartans were built (Passaro, 2019b: 41ss.). During the Seven Years War (1756-1763), they succeeded in following the same trade routes as the English one, sometime even getting to the Americas (Martinique). At the same time were built also tartans (merchant ships) of 5000 tomols (12.500 tons [21]) (Passaro, 2019a). In 1742-43 at the marina of Vietri (Salerno)a tartan of 5000 tomols (12.500 tons) was built by some patrons of Positano and Salerno, with many types of wood, oak (for 493 ducats, 13%), pine (114 ducats, more expensive than oak), poplar 1,05 ducats), walnut (5 ducats). For two workers for 226 days 178,15 ducats were spent, in addition to 130 for the caulker and 130 for the carpenter.  The total expense was 3556 ducats (Sofia, 1982). 

The wood for the construction of a tartana in Vietri (Salerno) 


226,860 tons


7 tables


23,860 tons


1,190 ton

 Tartana of the Procida island (

Tartana of the Procida island (

When Charles of Bourbon became king of Spain, in 1759, He resigned the crown of Naples, leaving his minister Bernardo Tanucci to head the regency council of his son Ferdinand until He attained his majority (1767) (Maiorini, 1991). During the regency the minister attempted to solve the problem of the lack of wood for shipbuilding by bringing materials from the North (Sirago, 2019a: 534). So, a great number of mainmasts from the Baltic Sea Kept on arriving in the kingdom, carried by Dutch ships (Sirago, 2012: 86).

In that period the economist Giovanni Battista Maria Jannucci (1981: IV), analysing the forestry heritage of the Sila, composted of oaks, beeches, maples, ashes, chestnuts, poplars, pines and fires, used for naval construction, observed that the material has been exhausted due to excessive deforestation. Furthermore, many pines were destroyed with the fire to obtain pitch, used for the ships. So, he considered It necessary to carry out strict controls, given that the wood had to be purchased abroad. Checks had to be carried out especially on the pines used for the masts of the vessels and the beech for the oars. But Iannucci’s words were not heeded: in 1772 Sweden could supply an order of 60 masts and 114 guns and in 1775 other masts and anchors were sent to the kingdom to be used for the new 60 gun-vessel on the stocks [22]. 

 Sorrentine polacca under construction (Bayard, 1832)

Sorrentine polacca under construction (Bayard, 1832)

The growth of merchant navy was promoted too: particularly, polaccas pinks and polaccas were built in great number thanks to a special “production bonus” to increase the shipbuilding above all in the marines of Meta (Alimuri) and Piano di Sorrento (Cassano) (Sirago, 2021b). At the same time were build little ships as feluccas, two-mast boat with lateen sails, and “Gozzi”, rowing boat with one lateen sail, used for the commerce and fishing (Maresca, De Pasquale, 1998).

In 1775 the Queen Maria Carolina, daughter of the empress Maria Teresa d’Austria, according to the marriage agreements, after the birth of her first son, had joined to State Council, also because the King was little interested in political affairs (Mafrici, 2010). So, having fired the ancient minister Tanucci, in 1778, She sent for the Scottish admiral, in service with his brother, the Grand Duque of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo, to reorganize the maritime sectors then, the Queen appointed Acton Director of Secretary of the Neapolitan Royal Navy (Sirago, 2012: 87ss.). So, in 1781, for the construction of the new vessels He decided to buy in Sweden some “Masts of the North”, pinewood, tar, carried with other goods by the ship called Sundermanland, commanded by captain Andrea Nilsen [23].

Jacob Philipp Hackert, The launching ceremony of the new vessel Partenope, 1786, Royal Palace, Caserta

Jacob Philipp Hackert, The launching ceremony of the new vessel Partenope, 1786, Royal Palace, Caserta

Then, in 1783 the admiral decided to build a new royal shipyard in Castellamare di Stabia, because the Neapolitan shipyard has been built for galleys. The new Castellammare’s shipyard was necessary for the building or big 74guns-vessels, following French plans, with the collaboration of a French engineer called Imbert (Sirago, 2022b). In the same year they were bought 245 masts in Riga [24].

The first vessel, La Partenope, was launched in 1786, followed by numerous other vessels and ships (Sirago, 2022b). 

After the trade agreement with Russia was signed, in 1787, Antonino Maresca, duke of Serracapriola, living in Saint Petersburg, was appointed consul. The same year, on August 18th placed an order for buy 141 masts and 2130 boards; and on August 28th other order for buy 75 masts of different sizes to the consul of Cronstad. They were carrier by two Duch ships that sailed from Riga (today Lettonia)[25]. In Cronstadt the vice consul was appointed to spare no efforts to buy those masts coming from Russia and sell them in Riga to all the European merchant navies. He had also to check their quality and ship them, usually on Dutch or Swedish cargoes. Planks of wood and mainmasts were shipped together with iron “in plates”, for the arms industry built in Torre Annunziata Sirago, 2022b: 90). The supply of mainmasts for the Navy came from the Baltic ports, where it was easier to find ships suitable for their transport. Thanks to hose abundant supplies of mainmasts and iron, Acton could finish his building plans by 1798 (Sirago, 2022b: 90ss.). The wood from the Baltic Sea was necessary because, as Giuseppe Maria Galanti pointed out, taking up Jannucci’s observations, the Calabrian forestes had been deforested and no reforestation had been carried out (Galanti, 1981: 267ss.).

At that time, Neapolitan merchant navy, particularly that of Piano and Procida, had increased its profits and navigation to the Black Sea, the Baltic and the Americas. The larger ships, three or two masted Polaccas and Pinchi, were built in Castellammare, Meta e Piano with the Faito wood. A three-masted vessel of 32.500 tons was built in Castellammare for a Neapolitan shopkeeper. But usually, two or three masted ships with a capacity of 15.000-20.000 tons were built; and on the Procida island “marticane” with a capacity of 7500-12.500 tons (Sirago, 2022b). But at the end of 1798 the King, while running away to Sicily, gave order to set fire to the fleet, which sank in the Gulf of Naples; then, in 1799 the Parthenopean Republic was proclaimed (Formicola Romano, 1999). The King came back to Naples six month later with the help of admiral Horatio Nelson. But in 1806, after the arrival of the French, the King had to come back to Palermo (Sirago, 2004). 

The French decade (1806-1815)

After Napoleon’s rise to power, the Italian peninsula was invaded by the French. The King fled to the island of Sicily, in Palermo, under British protection, Trade increased very much in Messina during the so called “British decade” (1806-1815) (Bottari, 2009).

In Naples, after the proclamation of king Joseph Bonaparte, the French decade began. The King followed the orders of his brother Napoleon by starting to restore the ports and the shipyards. When he became king of Spain, in 1808, his work was taken up by the new king Gioacchino Murat. First of all, It was necessary to restore the fleet, but the wood was lacking. Since the forestry heritage has been depleted, Murat issued a law in 1811 to regulate the felling of trees and encourage reforestation (Formicola Romano, 1990: 103ss.). However, the recession caused by the English Continental Blockade (signed on November 21st, 1806) hindered trade with the Baltic Sea, so It was impossible to get the materials for the fleet. So, He ordered the wood to be transported from Adriatic (Barletta) to Naples by land, since the Tyrrhenian sea was controlled by the English Royal Navy.

Murat followed the orders of Napoleon, who had reactivated the main Italian shipyards to build 80 guns-vessels, rearranged the Castellammare’s shipyard and to build three docks to make three vessels simultaneously (the plan was carried out in the 1820s, under the Bourbon rule), In 1810 was launched the 74 guns-vessel Capri and in 1812 the 80-guns vessel Gioacchino (Sirago, 2022b).

 The 80 - gun vessel Gioacchino (

The 80 – gun vessel Gioacchino (

The second Burbonian period (1815-1861)

After the Restoration (1815) King Ferdinand conformed to adopted trading policy of Murat and promoted further improvements, rearranging the main ports. In 1816 published a General Ordinance for the Royal Navy, so in 1822 vessels with guns were built again in Castellammare. At the same time the shipyard was reorganized, following the old French planes: so, the 80- guns vessel Vesuvio was in 1822; and in 1824 the 80-guns vessel was launched too, At the same time the wood was bought in Sweden and in Russia, particularly in the port of Riga. Indeed, trade exchanges with the Baltic ports, primarily the Swedish and the Russian ones, were set out again since the Restoration to find the raw materials (Sirago, 2022b).

Attempts were made to buy raw materials in the Black Sea, specifically in Odessa, a city founded in 1794 by the Spanish – Neapolitan general Giuseppe de Ribas by order of Catherine II. In a short time, viceconsul Vincenzo Musenga was transferred there and many Neapolitan merchants moved to the new growing city: one of them was de Ribas’ brother, Felice, who dealt with wheat trade. In 1807 Felice de Ribas was appointed consul general for the Black Sea, remaining in his office until 1848 (Sirago, 2019b). To find raw materials for the vessels, in 1824 the consul tried to trade in wood and iron from the Black Sea. He thought would make a bargain by buying 18 masts and some samples of iron: but he failed because He couldn’t find any kind of boat to carry such a small store of material. So, in 1830 He had to sell It back again with a loss of 25% of its value (Sirago, 2020b:183).

Therefore, the material, masts and iron kept on coming from the Baltic Sea, particularly from the port of Riga, carried by Swedish, Danish and Dutch ships. Towards 1840, Neapolitan ships joined this trade thanks to the improvement in technology. Sweden exported other products such as tar and pitch, used in shipbuilding industry (Pirolo Sirago, 2017).

Launching of a brig in shipyard of Alimuri, Meta, (Maresca Passaro, 2011).

Launching of a brig in shipyard of Alimuri, Meta
(Maresca Passaro, 2011)

Thanks to the Construction Law, enacted in 1817, new type of merchant ships were also built, like American schooners and bricks or brigantines, particularly those “a coffa”, so called because of their platforms which had to support the upper masts, whose construction was on shore leave. In a short time, the merchant navy increased, particularly brigs and brigs “a palo” in the shipyards of Naples, Castellammare, Vico Equense, Piano e Meta di Sorrento (Passaro, 2020) and in the island of Procida: also in Conca, near Salerno, were built 20 brigantines. In the 1840s, the number of brigs was about 340, for a total amount of 250.000 tons (Sirago, 2004, Clemente 2011).

Steamship Ferdinando I (Formicola Romano, 1990)

Steamship Ferdinando I (Formicola Romano, 1990)

In the same period, the “adventure” of steam engines began: in 1818 the French trader Pierre Andriel had a patent right to build the first Mediterranean steamship at the Vigliena marine, near Naples, with an English Engine: It was called Ferdinando 1st andlaunched in June 24th. However, It was not a successful achievement, so the ship was dismantled. In 1823 George Wilding, prince of Butera, a German officer from Dresda, had a ten-years patent-right to fund a steamship society to connect Naples to Palermo for postal service and passengers. In England He bought the steamboat, or packet boat (from Italian pacchetto), called Re Ferdinando. He started the first voyage on June 20th 1824. In the same period the minister Luigi de’ Medici granted the company special terms for postal service, for the first time in Italy. The patent-right was then bought by Maurizio Dupont. When Dupont went bankrupt, the patent right by Giorgio Sicard, who founded a Company (1829) for the navigation from Naples to Palermo. In the 1834 the patent- right expired, but king Ferdinand II did not want to renew It because decided to create a royal postal service by steamboats. Then, this new kind of boat was used also for the Royal Navy (Sirago, 2015). 

The Amerigo Vespucci

The Amerigo Vespucci

The first problem to be solved was to reduce the purchase of English steam engines for ships, that could only be assembled and handled by English machinists. So, the King decided to build a Royal Factory in Pietrarsa to produce steam engines for steamships build in Castellammare’s shipyard. In 1851 the steam frigate Ettore Fieramosca, was launched, with the hull build in Castellammare and the steam engine in Pietrarsa Factory (Sirago, Rastrelli 2023).

Model of Sorrentine “gozzo”

Model of Sorrentine “gozzo”

Thus, ended the era of sailing ships, build with wood. But we still have a testimony, the vessel Amerigo Vespucci, training ship, build in Castellammare in 1931 for the officer cadets of Livorno Naval Academy, still sailing.

Even in the Sorrento peninsula the tradition of building wooden boats has remained: the Aprea shipyard still builds the typical Sorrento “gozzo” based on ancient model, with “garbo” (a particular instrument for the construction).

Dialoghi Mediterranei, n. 65, gennaio 2024
[*] Abstract
Il lavoro è stato presentato in Romania nella ICWSE 2023 “The 13th edition of the International Conference “Wood science and engineering in the third Millennium” dedicata al 75° anniversario della Transilvania University of Brason. Il testo elabora il risultato dei miei studi sulla cantieristica navale nel Mezzogiorno d’Italia nell’età moderna e sull’uso del legno per le navi in vari periodi storici. All’inizio per la flotta si usavano galere, con propulsione remica; poi a fine 1500 si cominciarono a costruire galeazze, a propulsione remica e velica. Infine, furono fabbricati vascelli con cannoni. Anche per la Marina mercantile furono costruiti vari tipi di imbarcazioni, come le polacche, sostituite ai primi dell’Ottocento dai brigantini. Durante il periodo aragonese, di grande fioritura costruttiva, fu riorganizzato l’arsenale napoletano per le galere e le navi mercantili. Dopo la conquista spagnola (1503) il regno meridionale divenne l’antemurale per la difesa dagli attacchi dei turchi e barbareschi. La flotta fu ricostruita con legno calabrese della Sila, ottenendo la vittoria di Tunisi nel 1535. Anche per la battaglia di Lepanto (1571) l’arsenale napoletano fornì trenta galere costruite con legname del regno. Alla fine del Cinquecento iniziò la costruzione di galeazze a remi e a vela, poi quella dei vascelli con cannoni, per l’Armada Napoletana dell’Oceano, creata nel 1623. Simili vascelli furono realizzati dagli Austriaci e dai Borboni. Nella seconda metà del Settecento il legno che arrivava dal Baltico era utilizzato per costruire vascelli a 74 cannoni nel regio cantiere di Castellammare. Poi nell’Ottocento ai vascelli furono aggiunte le navi a vapore. Anche la Marina mercantile ebbe un notevole sviluppo dalla seconda metà del Settecento. Molte polacche uscirono dai cantieri di Castellammare, dell’isola di Procida, e in quelli di Meta e Piano di Sorrento con il legname del monte Faito e dei boschi vicini, sostituite dai primi dell’Ottocento con i brigantini.
[1] Archivo General, Simancas, then AGS, Estado, Nápoles, Legajo 1009/21, 1532.
[2] AGS, Estado, Nápoles, Legajo 1055/5, 1565.
[3]AGS, Estado, Nápoles, Legajo 1049/78, 1565.
[4]AGS, Estado, Nápoles, Legajo1046/211, 1566.
[5] Biblioteca Nazionale, Napoli, then BNN, Sezione Militare, Giunta dell’Arsenale, 147.
[6] AGS, Estado, Nápoles, Legajo1064/13, 1/3/1574.
[7] Archivio di Stato, Napoli, than ASN, Museo 99 C 64, Cons. 41, f. 98t., 1576 and Cons 45, f.101, 1577-79.
[8] AGS, Secreterias Provinciales, Legajo 14, 2/11/1623.
[9] AGS, Secreterias Provinciales, Legajo 14, 5/5/1626.
[10] AGS, Secreterias Provincials, Legajo 61, 5/8/1683.
[11] AGS, Estado, Nápoles, Legajo, 3327, 2/1/1696; in the Neapolitan harbour 101 pieces of wood, mainmasts, foremasts, antennas, etc. arrived from Sila (Calabria).
[12] ASN, Sommaria, Consulte, 110, f. 22, 20/12/1710.
[13] ASN, Sommaria, Consulte, 112, ff. 382-384, 18/6/1711 and ff. 399-403, 27/6/1711.
[14] ASN, Sommaria, Consulte, 112, ff. 33-34, 3/9/1711.
[15] ASN, Sommaria, Consulte, 114, f. 453, 9/12/1712.
[16] BNN, Sezione Napoletana, Domenico Antonio Parrino, Avvisi, 1/5/1714.
[17] Biblioteca di Storia Patria, Napoli, manuscript XXI A8, f.21, Memorie per la Marina, (1730).
[18] ASN, Sommaria, Consulte, 161, ff.2-2t, 12/10/1731.
[19]ASN, Sezione Militare, Segreteria di marina, Espedienti, 136, f.167, 
[20] ASN, Sezione Militare, Segreteria di marina, Espedienti, 4, ff. 116-118, 1737.
[21] 25 tomols correspond to 1 tonnage (Passaro, 2019b: 42.
[22] ASN, Esteri, 2051, 1772-1775.
[23] ASN, Finanze, 1349, 16/1/1781.
[24] ASN, Esteri, 7160, 7/1/1783.
[25] ASN, Esteri, 1742, August 18th and 28th.1787. 
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Maria Sirago, dal 1988 è stata insegnante di italiano e latino presso il Liceo Classico Sannazaro di Napoli, ora in pensione. Partecipa al NAV Lab (Laboratorio di Storia Navale di Genova). Ha pubblicato numerosi saggi di storia marittima sul sistema portuale meridionale, sulla flotta meridionale, sulle imbarcazioni mercantili, sulle scuole nautiche, sullo sviluppo del turismo ed alcune monografie: La scoperta del mare. La nascita e lo sviluppo della balneazione a Napoli e nel suo golfo tra ‘800 e ‘900, Edizioni Intra Moenia, Napoli 2013; Gente di mare. Storia della pesca sulle coste campane, Edizioni Intra Moenia, Napoli 2014, La flotta napoletana nel contesto mediterraneo (1503 -1707), Licosia ed. Napoli 2018; La penna e la spada Bernardo e Torquato Tasso da Tunisi a Lepanto, Quaderni di Historia Regni, Nocera Superiore (Salerno), 2021; Il mare in festa Musica balli e cibi nella Napoli viceregnale (1503-1734), Kinetés edizioni, Benevento, 2022; L’istruzione nautica nel regno di Napoli [1734-1861], Società Italiana di Storia Militare, nadir Media, Fucina di Marte, Collana della Società Italiana di Storia Militare, vol.9, 2022, online.




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