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Amalfi (3 of 3)
by
Bill Austin, Barry Nelson, Jon Kaiser
Ital333, Prof. Barbara Nucci, March 1999
      Amalfi was one of the first European cities to produce paper.  The Museum of Paper in Amalfi is an excellent example of the process that brought Amalfi a lot of recognition.  They leaned the process from the Arabs they traded with, and in its hey day of the 12th Century, several paper mills dotted the Valley of the Mills along the river Canneto.  The process was eminently practical.  It used waterpower to turn its wheels and pistons, and it used recycled mops, rags and other fibrous materials no longer needed elsewhere.  The truly laborious work, that of breaking the fibers down to a mushy pulp, was done by the action of the water wheel.  The paper was far superior to the sheepskin parchment usually used and much cheaper and easier to make than the papyra that had been made in Egypt (Senzanonna, 2-4; De Vero, 72)

A Chronology of
Events in Italy

60,000 BC - 1300 AD

1300 AD - 1998 AD

       The notaries of the Curia began using it from the start and soon all transactions and records were recorded on Amalfi paper.  People came from all over the Mediterranean to buy and record documents on Amalfi paper (Senzanonna, 3).  The quality was so particular and the production so reliable that even the Vatican was said to have contracted with Amalfi to produce all its official paper (Nucci)


      The process went more or less like this: raw linen and hemp rags were cut into small pieces and then beaten with water driven wooden mauls in large stone containers to split their fibers.  This pulpy mixture was then taken from the beater with wooden scoops and put into  majolica tiled vats and diluted with more water.  The operator would then immerse into the water a frame with a fine wire mesh.  A layer of the pulp would be collected and distributed evenly over the mesh.  When the water drained from the wire mesh, the paste sheet was placed between two layers of felt.  Stacks of these paper/felt layers were then placed under a press to squeeze out any remaining water. 

The sheets were then collected, stacked and allowed to dry in the open air.  When dry, they were treated with animal gelatine and smoothed by hand (De Vero, 72, 73; Senzanonna, 4, 5).  A slightly more automated version of the same process is still used today and one may purchase hand made Amalfi paper.  There’s only one shop where you can buy it: the Stampa, a little negozio two shops up from the Porta Mare, or the entrance to the city from the sea, across from the Duomo. 

     Although I had been to Amalfi before, this trip left me with a deeper appreciation of this beautiful little town.  It is much more than a ‘tourist stop’ with few card shops and a nice beach.  It has a deep and rich history and tradition readily available to discover for anyone who is curious enough.  There is so much more in Amalfi that can not be explored in five pages.  There are monasteries now owned by hotels, more cloisters, other churches, other museums, medieval towers, an seemingly endless maze of little stairs and walk ways that open up to other small piazze, and all throughout, every building and door you pass is someone’s home or shop. 


      We met an elderly lady on the main street through Amalfi.  Actually she flagged us down.  We thought she would be sick of tourists, but she was fascinated that  Americans who live in Naples would be interested in her little town.  She shared with us how she and her husband had made a fortune in the restaurant business, first in Naples, then England, and New York.  After her husband died she returned to Amalfi.  She could live anywhere in the world and it was to Amalfi she came home to, much like the Amalfitani who were taken away by the Longobards and did not rest until they also returned 1160 years ago.  In the people is found the character and history of this place.  For the cloisters and cathedral are beautiful and majestic, but it is the people of Amalfi who built them, defended them, and fill them still. 

 

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