Bellissima Costa Amalfitana
So, I know... when we talk about Amalfi Coast, paper is not exactly what comes to mind!
The Amalfi Coast, these fifty kilometers suspended over a sea of infinite blue, perhaps it is this which best represents the Italian dolce vita : this charm of dream landscapes, of citrus scent, priceless cultural riches and of course its irresistible spaghetti alle vongole !
Today, living almost exclusively on tourism, Amalfi was nevertheless one of the most powerful and wealthy maritime cities in Italy in the 11th century. The trading posts of the Amalfi Republic then extended from southern Italy to Sicily and North Africa, promoting commercial and cultural exchanges, particularly with the Arab world. It was during this period that the Amalfitans received from the Arabs the technique of making paper, itself invented in China in the 1st century AD.
Paper is what interests us here :)
If you continue along Via Lorenzo d'Amalfi, the main street of Amalfi, moving away from the coast and its processions of tourists, you will find yourself in Via delle Cartiere which is aptly named, since it is here that from the 13th century, the first artisanal paper factories (carta a mano) were created. The location is ideal: The lush Valle dei Mulini is crossed by a river (the Canetto), and hydraulic energy is essential for the manufacture of paper.
Compared to what we know today, this paper was not produced from cellulose (derived from wood), but from the grinding of linen, cotton and hemp rags. Once these rags were reduced to lint (by a system of mallets powered by hydraulic energy), several stages of washing were carried out in order to isolate the fabric fibers from the seams, the remains of buttons and other waste. We finally obtained a homogeneous paste which we diluted in a large tank: we then immersed a metal frame with very fine mesh, we collected the paste which filled the entire frame, we drained, leaving only one layer fine which was then spread on a wool felt and then dried in the open air. The paper was ready to use!
If you didn't understand anything from my explanations, good news: it is still possible to see this manufacturing process at the Amalfi Paper Museum, an old factory dating from the 14th century. The machines there are intact and still operational!
In 1700, the golden age of the Amalfi carta a mano , there were 11 factories of this type, which gradually became more sophisticated. Then came the decline. The non-competitiveness of these small structures compared to modern factories, the geographical location of Amalfi making land access very complicated and finally a terrible flood in November 1954, put a stop to this centuries-old know-how.
Today, only a very specific and high-end production remains: announcements, watercolor paper, writing paper and not the least... the Vatican still uses the Amalfi carta a mano for its correspondence .