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Amalfi (3 of 3)
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).
Events in Italy
BC - 1300 AD
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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