The Paper Museum in Amalfi
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The Paper Musuem of Amalfi is located in the higher part of town, following the main central street, towards the Valle delle Ferriere. From Piazza del Duomo it takes about 10-15 minutes to reach the Paper museum following the clear and frequent indications along the road. In case road signs were not to be enough, the sound of Canneto river getting stronger as the road gets closer to the Museum, together with the frequent mill wheels scattered around the road, will indicate that the Paper Museum is just round the corner.
Making of paper was most probably learnt from the Arabs, during commercial exchanges in the Mediterranean, indeed trails of paper followed former wool trails leading to the Mills Valley above Amalfi.
The position of the Valley was in fact ideal for the development of the new paper product, as it was difficult to get to, thus protected from foreign invasions, leaving artisans to work the fibres undisturbed and having use of large quantities of water. However the secluded Valley was eventually the reason why paper manufacturing drastically declined, which basically terminated after the dramatic floods of 1954. The Paper Museum was set up in 1968 refurbishing one of the many paper mills that had been abandoned after the flood. Locals adamantly worked towards the creation of a Paper Museum to protect and to hand down to newer generations the memory of the precious amatruda paper, which represented a great asset for Amalfi’s development.
Amalfi’s paper was known and appreciated worldwide, and it was used by some of the greatest artists of all times, namely Guttuso and D’Annunzio in Italy. The Vatican uses amatruda paper still today to write important messages and documents.
Admission is 4 euro including a guided tour in the mills, which lasts about 30 minutes. The tour shows the paper manufacture process, together with its technological developments throughout history.
The tour begins in 1400
4 hydraulic tilt-hammers would be activated exploiting the energy of water, each with twelve hammers fitted with 15 nails, that would shred cloth for 24 hours until a fibres mush was created. This much was then put into a stone basin full of water. Now the paper maker would use a squared wooden slate with his ingles engraved in it, to plunge it into the mush and extract the primordial shape of a sheet of paper. This sheet was then to be pressed to eliminate water from the fibres, and then it was left to dry in the famous stenditoi in the Valle delle Ferriere to be dried by the air, but protected from the sun. Once sheets were dry, they would be coated with animal grease, which would protect the sheet and allow for ink to stay on it without dissolving the fibres. The great difference between cloth derived paper and wood derived paper, is that the former lasts in time much longer and more intact, and it does not turn yellow like cellulose one. Today the only paper factory of Amalfi, produces paper amatruda with a cotton wool derivate called bambagina , today’s cloth cannot be used anymore as synthetic fibre has contaminated the majority of textiles.
In the higher part of the room, there is an example of the first technological evolution of amatruda paper manufacture. A machine called The Dutch Masher, a blade machine activated by the mill, which reduced the times for the production of paper mush from 24 hours to 16. It was introduced in Amalfi in 1745 and the guide will quickly show how the machine works.
The second room shows the industrial development of amatruda paper manufacturing in the XIX century. Again water would generate energy that would activate a more complex machine which allowed for a faster and more continuous production of sheets of paper. Indeed the former press, would have to be filled with at least 30 sheets before being activated, implying great waste of time for each individual sheet.
The tour into Amalfi’s paper production continues outside the old paper factory where the Canneto river flow was split into two, to make part of the water go inside the mill to start the machines. To regulate the flow of water there is a very basic dam system made with two wooden boards. The tour ends inside the Museum shop, where paper is displayed and sold for all sorts of uses: from writing with ink and pen nib, to printer paper.
The only paper factory left in Amalfi, which is located a few km from the Museum cannot be toured. However its products acan be found all over Amalfi, where shops display all the effort that paper prtoducers make to maintain a market for their traditional product. For instance a very innovative and appreciated version of amatruda paper is dry flowers decorated paper, bound in albums or sketch books.
Wedding business is probably the most important market niche for amatruda paper as still today many couplet from the area but even from all over the world choose to write their wedding invitations on elegant amatruda paper.
The tour of the Paper Museum give a very clear idea of how tough the production of paper must have been. However when touching the rich and soft texture of amatruda paper one immediately undrstands why the effort and what a satisfaction it must have been, knowing the that very paper would have been used by great artists for their best masterpieces.