Handmade Amalfi Paper and its Museum
The paper of Amalfi, called “bambagina”, is a very thick, soft, elegant paper that is still appreciated by artists around the world.
The beginning of the ancient tradition of paper making dates to around the 1st century B.C. along the banks of the large river Azure in China. Thanks to adventurous merchants, paper began to arrive in the bazaars of Persia, the Syrian-Palestine border, and then onto the Moslems possessions in Sicily, Spain and North Africa.
The Amalfitani soon came into contact with the new product in their trading with the Arab world.
“Charta bambagina”, as it was called, cost less than the traditional parchment, there was a rapid diffusion in legal and commercial circles despite the fact that in 1230 King Federico II prohibited the use of paper for official documents insisting that they continued to use parchment as it was better fitted for long-term conservation.
The bambagina paper was made from rags that were cut up and put into stone tubs. The pieces were pounded into fibers using water-powered wooden mallets or pestles. The pulp was then put into vats. At this point a frame with a thin wire mesh was placed in the vat and a thin layer of pulp was spread over the mesh. The water was drained off and the pulp was put between two pads and pressed to eliminate any excess water. The sheet was then hung to dry.
During the 13th century the production of paper on the Amalfi Coast continued to expand with the gradual transformation of the water mills into paper mills situated in the Valle dei Mulini.
In 1268, the will of a local merchant, Margarito Marcagella, shows that he bought cotton to transform it into paper, while a Ravello document dated 1289 mentions the ” bambagina o bombicina".
After the Council of Trento (held between 1545 and 1563) ordered all parishes to keep registers of births and deaths, there was a further increase in use of paper. Solicitors, churchmen, universities and offices of the Kingdom began to use paper for their deeds. The best quality paper began to be used at the Anjou and Aragon courts, in the Spanish vice-realm and later still in the Bourbon court.
As its popularity grew in the 15th century, many foreign authors had their works published in Naples utilizing this precious product.
The paper was used in all the royal curiae for public acts from the time of the Angevins to that of the Bourbons.
The height of production was reached in the 18th century when Amalfi had 14 paper-mills and the paper-makers had their own corporation, with a congregation that met in the Church of the Santo Spirito located in the present-day Piazza Santo Spirito.
Other mills were in Tramonti, Maiori, Minori and Ravello.
The manufacture of paper continued for most of the 19th century and with the Industrial revolution came some significant innovations, with new machines that accelerated the production. Later, disastrous floods caused the owners to move their factories to other places complicating the paper making activity.
Today only one paper mill in Amalfi still produces this famous paper.
Museo della Carta or Museum of Hand-Made Amalfi Paper
Via delle Cartiere, 24
10 AM - 6:30 PM from March 1st till October 31st (includind Sunday) 10 AM - 3.30 PM from November 1st till February 28th (Monday closed) 10.00 AM - 6.30 PM from December 27th to January 6th (including Sunday)