The Amalfi Paper Museum
In addition to being one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Italy, the Amalfi Coast also boasts a fine set of museums. Among these, one of the most fascinating is the Paper Museum of Amalfi. Located just over 10 kilometres from our boutique hotel, it is housed in a 13th-century paper mill (the oldest in Europe) that remained in activity until the 1960s.
Visiting this little jewel of industrial archaeology means taking a real journey back in time. In fact, it offers the possibility of directly experiencing the ancient techniques of producing the precious hand-made paper, of which Amalfi was one of the major production centres in the Middle Ages. Although in a reduced form compared to the past, it is still produced today according to tradition. And it is frequently used for wedding invitations, for artistic purposes, for texts and luxury publications. The Vatican State uses it for its correspondence.
As is well known, Amalfi’s history is marked by water. Not only by those of the Mediterranean, on which the fortunes of the Maritime Republic were built, but also by those of the Canneto torrent, which favoured the development of the art of papermaking. The historian Matteo Camera in ‘Istoria della Città e Costiera di Amalfi’ (1836) wrote: ‘There is no doubt that the manufacture of writing paper, both of papyrus and of the so-called bambagina, dates back to the 13th century among us; and it was for a long time one of Amalfi’s main industries‘. The art of papermaking became so flourishing in this town that it was renowned throughout the world. Along the valley behind the museum (known as the Valle dei Mulini) as many as 16 paper mills were once active, one of which now houses the museum itinerary.
The idea of setting up a museum, the purpose of which is to disseminate, divulge and document the art of handmade papermaking, is due to Comm. Nicola Milano, owner of the paper mill and illustrious descendant of an ancient lineage of papermakers. He worked in the paper mill from the age of 13, after dropping out of technical school to make up for the absence of his father who was called up to arms in the Great War of 1915-18.
Inside the museum you can admire the centuries-old machinery, restored and made functional, that was used in production. These include antique wooden hammers, 18th century presses, the round paper machine and the revolutionary Dutch machine. The latter, installed in the Milan paper mill on 18 November 1745, was of considerable importance for the paper industry because it enabled production to be speeded up and perfected. During the visit, the manufacturing process that took place in the paper mill is illustrated and it is also possible to take part in educational workshops (which can only be booked up to 48 hours before arrival at the museum) that offer the opportunity to experience at first hand the steps by which cotton rags were used to produce shiny sheets ready for writing.
The museum also has a themed library (dedicated to the papermaker Nicola Milano) in which, in addition to a rich collection of magazines, texts from various eras and historical phases can be consulted. There are around three thousand tomes catalogued in several sections and subsections: Painting and Architecture, History of the Church, History of Southern Italy, History of Amalfi, History – Technique – Paper Industry, and finally a section of foreign texts on History – Technique – Paper Industry.
After your visit, you may feel inspired to buy a stationery item sold in the gift shop, where the entire local handmade paper production is presented along with writing accessories and many other souvenirs. And if you still have energy, you can also take a walk to the heart of the valley, past the remains of the mills that line the river in a state of romantic abandonment.
Photo © Amalfi Paper Museum