Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Paper Makers of Amalfi

The Sunday Skip: Hiking trails abound along the Amalfi Coast. Today, Mr. Don Gawlik writes this guest post about a hike that meanders through ruins of paper mills, ending at the Paper Museum in the town of Amalfi. Don is not only an avid explorer of this region who did extensive research for this post (and took all the pictures included here), but he is also an exceptional science teacher. He happened to have created and customized this hike for my daughter's sixth grade class field trip. There is so much to explore along the route that this espresso break only touches the surface. He writes:

A Brief History
Papermaking first began in the Orient around the 700's A.D. Five hundred years later, the sea empires of Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa, and Venice all traded extensively with the Middle East and the Orient. This network of trade gave rise to the need for documenting transactions. In the 13th century, Amalfi was not only the oldest Sea Republic -- with bases all the way down to what is now Sicily -- but it also became famous for its paper production.

The need for paper increased particularly in 1220 when King Frederick II produced an epic-making decision by imposing the use of paper for all public acts. The mills for producing the paper were located in the Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills) and people came from throughout the Mediterranean to buy and record documents on Amalfi paper. The quality was so particular and the production so reliable that even the Vatican was said to have contracted with Amalfi to produce all its official paper. Mozart also received a supply of Amalfi paper in exchange for a concert in the home of a wealthy Neapolitan nobleman.

The Hike
The trail begins in the small town of Pontone along the Via di Ferriere. Hiking beyond a stream, you can see ruins of the Iron Works that once produced the metal parts needed by the paper mills. From there, a trail diverts upstream to a cascade. This is the waterway that many mills used to manufacture their paper.

Returning to the Ferriere, the path forks. Another trail goes down to the Valle dei Mulini. This route takes you past eleven mills that operated in the valley during the 18th century.

The hills all around are the Lattari Mountains. They produce the water that flows into the Canneto River. In many places along the trail, you can see where man channeled the water into canals to help run the paper making machinery. The valley, ironically, helped the decline of the paper mills in later years because these roads, railways, and communication systems weren't easily accessible, making the shipping in and out of raw materials difficult.

The First Paper Making Techniques
A document from the year 1700 states that this valley had eleven paper mills with a total of 83 "pile" troughs made of rock. Here, rags were crushed into fibers using large levers with hammers. Some of the mills were huge buildings that had rooms with open windows and large racks to dry the paper, while others were smaller.

In the beginning, old rags from Amalfi and other areas were used to produce the fibers for making paper. Rags were hard to come by. Ironically, when the Black Death killed millions of people in Europe, tons of clothing and rags became available -- at just about the time the printing press was invented. Suddenly, more books were printed, people became better educated, and these better educated people scratched their heads, trying to figure out a substance that might provide even more paper making material. In the 1700's a Frenchman studied the paper wasp and discovered that wood could be broken apart and made into paper -- this is how paper is manufactured today.

The Paper Museum
At the end of the trail is Amalfi's Paper Museum.

The Italians started the first steps toward the process of "industrializing" paper making by mechanizing many jobs once done by hand. In later years, however, the Industrial Revolution struck this region hard. Many paper mills couldn't modernize to keep up with competitors and they went out of business. In spite of the difficulties, some Amalfi paper makers continued to produce paper using their traditional methods; father passed the trade on to his son and generations continued making paper in traditional ways.

Because of their geographic location, the mills were always subject to flooding during the rainy season. This flood water, if used in the mill, carried with it rubble that damaged equipment. In November 1954 a massive flood destroyed 16 paper mills, leaving only 3 standing.

Because of the size of this valley, these mills have never been, and will never be, large or even middle-sized operations. They will always retain an "artisan" character. The museum displays some of the artisan techniques used throughout the centuries.

The Paper Making Shop
Don's wife Leesa sent me additional information about a shop in the town of Amalfi where the owners demonstrate how to make paper. Hospitable and funny, they love to have the kids make their own paper also. She writes:

Continuing downhill from the museum, just on the right, you'll find Arte e Carta di Rita Cavaliere at Via Casamare. The structure, housing the paper shop, has a mill stone near the entrance. Built in the thirteenth century, it retains its original stone basin for paper pulp and contains many paper making artifacts. The Cavaliere family has been making paper from the sixteenth century onward, an art passed from one generation to the next. Visitors are invited to make a single sheet from wet pulp of 100% pure cotton and peruse the shop with its fine quality paper. Available for sale are single sheets for watercolor or limited edition prints, textured paper embedded with dried flowers and plants, small booklets, blanks for business cards and historical images of Amalfi. The shop is only about 10 meters from the museum as you head downhill toward the town center.

Thank you Don and Leesa for sharing a true gem of Campania with us!


Laura said...

Ciao Barbara! Great article and very well researched by Don. I just did this hike this past summer for the first time, and I think it's one of the most interesting and beautiful hikes on the Amalfi Coast. And I second Leesa's recommendation. Arte e Carta is a great and very friendly paper shop. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information about Amalfi!
Un abbraccio da Amalfi,

Barbara said...

Thanks, Laura! If anyone would know best, it would be you. I'm glad you thought this hike was so wonderful. After taking it, I wished I could go back again and again.


Scintilla said...

Brava! The Valley of the Mills is a walk well worth doing. I love coming across ruins on hikes too.

LindyLouMac said...

A great post and it made me think of the first time I came across that fabulous paper in Amalfi. Gave packs of it as Christmas presents.

Superali Romesecret said...

Very interesting. I'm fascinated by handmade paper.

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The Valley of the Mills is a walk well worth doing. I love coming across ruins on hikes too.

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