The Amalfi Coast is one of Italy’s most beautiful holiday destinations, described as an outstanding example of Mediterranean landscape by Unesco and home to any number of idyllic beaches. The turquoise seas, atmospheric and traditional town centres and opportunities for walking attracts visitors from far and wide, but the reasons to visit this fascinating part of the world don’t stop there. Amalfi Paper, known locally as ‘bambagina’ is a very thick and soft paper that remains popular with artists and appreciated by art enthusiasts. For the next in our ‘Made in’ series, we’re going to explore a little more about the unique paper to find out more about its history and why it has an entire museum dedicated to its production.
Paper-making is an ancient tradition that dates back to the 1stcentury B.C. in China. Adventurous merchants delivered the paper to Persia and then even further afield to Sicily, Spain and North Africa. The Amalfitani soon learned of the new product during their trades with the Arab world. It was known as ‘Charta bambagina’ back then and was a popular choice for many because it cost less than traditional parchment. More and more industries were inclined to use bambagina, even though in 1230, King Federico II threw somewhat of a spanner in the works by banning the paper from being used for official documents. He argued that the longevity required by these types of documents needed the long-term conservation provided by parchment.
How Was it Made?
Bambagina paper is made from a selection of cut up rags that were put into stone tubs. These pieces were then pounded into fibres via the use of powered wooden mallets or pestles. The resulting pulp was placed into vats, where a thick wire mesh was placed in the vat and a thin layer of pulp spread over it. The water soon drained off, and the pulp put between two pads and pressed together so as to rid the paper of any excess water that may stop it from forming. The sheet was then hung to dry, usually outside, making the most of that renowned Amalfi Coast sunshine.
The 13thcentury saw the production of paper in this part of Italy expand, with many water mills becoming paper mills as a result of the increase in demand. The Council of Trento, held between 1545 and 1563, declared all parishes must keep birth and death registers, and yet again, the area saw even more of a demand for paper. While higher quality variations remained the paper of choice for the Anjou and Aragon courts, Solicitors, Churchmen, Universities and Offices of the Kingdom utilised Amalfi Paper for their deeds.
The demand continued through the 15thcentury, whereby people from foreign lands began to publish their works in Naples so as to utilise this precious product. The area soon became known as the ‘milk mountains’ in reference to the milky mixture of ground cotton and mountain water of which the paper was made. From the Angevins to the Bourbons, Amalfi Paper was used in all of the royal curiae for all public acts. This production peaked in the 18thcentury when there were fourteen operating paper-mills, and the paper-makers even had their own corporation – a congregation that met in the Church of the Santo Spirito, which is what’s now known as Piazza Santo Spirito. Other mills included Maiori, Minori, Tramonti and Ravello.
The Industrial Revolution came and with it brought some significant innovations, including technological advances in machinery that accelerated the production. In the following years, disastrous floods caused the owners to move factories elsewhere so as to avoid such devastating destruction. Today, there is just one working paper mill in Amalfi that continues to produce this famous paper, and it is open for visitors to enjoy.
Visiting the Museum
What is arguably one of the most original museums on the Amalfi Coast, the Amalfi Paper Museum is located in an ancient medieval paper-mill along the road to the Ferriere Valley. Founded in 1969 by Nicola Milano, who owned the paper-mill and was a member of one of the most renowned families who has worked in the paper production industry since 1250. Here you can see a number of machineries and instruments that were used throughout the ancient paper making process and also observe a reconstruction of the entire production cycle of ‘bambagina’. The museum is open from 10am to 6.30pm and provides the perfect opportunity to take a break from the sun and discover what life was once like for paper-makers all those years ago.
That concludes our guide to Amalfi Paper. Have you made it to this unique museum in Italy yet? Let us and other visitors know your thoughts on the experience via the comments on our social media channels! For anyone thinking about heading to the Amalfi Coast, check out our blog for pieces such as Seven Days on the Amalfi Coastand Six Unique Things to do on The Amalfi Coastfor more inspiration. You can also browse some of our Luxury holiday villas on the Amalfi Coast below, so you know what awaits for your next Italian escape!
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