Domenico Martuscelli and the first assistance institute for the blind

by Federico Quagliuolo
Martuscelli Statue

Domenico Martuscelli it is perhaps an unfamiliar sounding name.

Born in 1834, son of the Bourbon calligraphy teacher. From an early age he was fascinated by the craft ofteaching, as he watched his father teach the young man letters Francis II of Bourbon.
His soul, however, was always restless: why teach kings? Why help a man who, with a snap of his fingers, can surround himself with the best scribes in the world, when the world is full of poor people?

This question of his was only the beginning of a painful path to success: at the age of fourteen, a very young Martuscelli lost both parents in an accident and was orphaned.
The King Ferdinand II, who also grew up with the teachings of the boy's father, had the destiny of the poor orphan: he quickly found a employment in the ministry of finance, to guarantee him a dignified life and a fixed salary.
Despite the support of the King, Martuscelli was not satisfied with his life: he continued to study secretly to become a writing teacher, just like the father.
Meanwhile, in 1836, he also wrote a treatise called "Rudiments of the History of the Two Sicilies".

Martuscelli in fact did not like the sumptuous environments in which he grew up: just twenty years old, he went to the hospice of Santi Giuseppe and Lucia to teaching writing to the illiterate poor. And it was here that he met numerous blind, people at the time treated the same way as crazy people: why not try to give the blind an education that can make them "normal" in the future? Because blind children can't attend school, like their "healthy" peers?
If the eyes do not see, the mind can always dream“, Said Martuscelli.
However, the law did not allow it: the blind are like crazy, they must be isolated.

Domenico Martuscelli and the first assistance institute for the blind

Meanwhile, the Bourbon kingdom was facing its own last years of life and Martuscelli confidently awaited the new government to start his battle for the blind. The base of the statue, with two blind children looking at Martuscelli

In fact, it will be necessary to wait for his fortieth birthday to see the first victory: in 1873 Domenico Martuscelli held the first elementary school lesson for blind children inside an abandoned former convent. It was a first in all of Italy.
From that moment the blind will begin to obtain more and more rights within the Kingdom of Italy, until obtaining, in 1885, the definitive consecration of his battle that went on incessantly, despite the newspapers and the press talking about him as "a fool who taught madmen": Starting from the year 1886, blind children will be able to attend all Italian public schools, living a "normal" life.

Born in the richest court in Italy, he refused all privileges of a friendly king: he fought all his life for give a future to all children which, out of spite of nature, they would have otherwise threw their own life on the fringes of society.

Martuscelli was a dreamer who, with sacrifices and struggles, he overcame the challenges of life: he will die serene in 1917, after having succeeded in 1912 to make legal the teaching of the music to the blind.

Today it is here at Dante Square, in a garden full of litter, with only pigeons to keep him company. The Martuscelli Institute for blind young people, on the other hand, it still exists and is located in Vomero right in the square named after the genius, and in these days it is facing a very serious state of economic crisis and is close to closing.

-Federico Quagliuolo


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