Article by Michele Sergio published in “L’Espresso Napoletano” of May 2018
Thanks to Pietro Della Valle, Naples was one of the first cities to come into contact with a new drink: coffee
A fascinating figure is that of the great Roman musicologist, writer and adventurer Pietro Della Valle who, in the first half of the XVII century, embarked on a series of trips to the Middle East, during which he discovered a world unknown to us Europeans, many innovations, including coffee. He is among the first Europeans to drink it and will try to import it into his adopted city, ours, Naples. But let’s go in order.
Pietro Della Valle was born in Rome in 1586 from a rich and ancient family that allowed him to deepen his classical studies, belong to the society that counts, travel, intertwine personal and professional relationships with people of all levels and nationalities.
At twenty, his life changes. He falls madly in love with a girl who will never be able to have him because he will marry another man.
Disappointed, Peter is unleashed by giving himself to musical compositions: The wagon of fidelity of love, The loves fishermen, Letters of love fishing, Dream of Love. This is not enough to fill his void and he decides to leave for the war in 1611 to assault Tunis. After this parenthesis returns to Naples, then one of the liveliest and most populous cities in the world, where he meets many people including the doctor and poet Marco Schipano who became his close friend.
In 1614 he leaves for the vault of the Holy Land where he falls in love (and we are two!) Of a beautiful woman named Maani, the only one able to make him forget his (first) Roman love.
And from there begins the discovery of the habits and customs of Middle Eastern peoples, which he fervently tells through 56 letters, to Europeans, from cuneiform writing to coffee. Yes to coffee. The Neapolitans, through his letters, spread by his friend Schipano, are aware of the infused black, until Della Valle does not speak directly after that, many years spent traveling, decides to return to Naples. Here he writes about the drink called “kahve” consumed by Muslims at the end of the meal, an excellent alternative to alcohol prohibited by their religion. Here he tells of the perfumed liquid in black, from pots placed on the fire poured into small porcelain bowls, continuously emptied and filled by the patrons. Here he writes about the ability of this new “magic” drink to keep people awake at night, to awaken the body and spirit of drinkers.
It is thanks to Pietro Della Valle that the Neapolitans know, among the first in Europe, coffee as a result of his return to his homeland. After a century Naples will become the capital of coffee and the Neapolitans the first lovers and consumers, as well as sponsors, of the infused black.