Books, newspapers, sheets of paper, cards, exercise books and notebooks, tissues, napkins, bags, boxes, envelopes and money. In this extraordinary digital age, paper still holds its own. Look no further than the recycling and recovery of paper and cardboard in Italy, which according to Comieco’s 25th annual report on its collection, exceeded the threshold of 3.5 million tons of recycled paper and cardboard in 2019. The numbers are enough to show the significant role of the paper and cardboard sector.

But let’s proceed in chronological order. Paper is an ancient Chinese discovery. In 105 AD, Ts’ai Lun, a eunuch of the Han court, was resting by a pond where a washerwoman was rinsing out some worn-out cloths. As they frayed, the fibers of the cloth accumulated in a small inlet at Ts’ai Lun’s feet. A little later, Ts’ai Lun noticed a thin layer of woven fibers on the surface of the pond which he picked up and laid on the grass to dry. At that point, it became clear that the small sheet of soft, compact, white fibers was simply a page on which to write. Production was perfected and paper made from cloth, mulberry, hemp and fishing nets, spread throughout the Empire. The long journey of paper had begun. When the Arabs conquered Samarkand in 751, two Chinese papermakers were kidnapped to reveal the secrets of their craft to the world. Paper reached Baghdad, then Damascus, Cairo, Sicily, Istanbul and, after the year 1000, Morocco and Spain. In 1264, the first paper mills were set up in Fabriano, in the Marche region, which initiated the spread of paper in northern Europe. The Paper Museum of Pescia in Tuscany and the Fedrigoni Fabriano Foundation in the Marche region are the custodians of priceless historical paper heritage.

Pescia Paper Museum

We are in the Valleriana (or Svizzera Pesciatina), a landscape of hills and woods in which the “ten castles” were built. They are very well-preserved medieval villages that offer beautiful panoramic views from their narrow streets, porticos and arches. This is where the Paper Road starts, stretching as far as the sea, in Viareggio, passing through Collodi, Villa Basilica, Capannori, Garfagnana, Lucca and Pietrasanta. This route takes visitors through the history of papermaking, retracing the roads and trails once trodden by expert papermakers. It is possible to visit 18th-century paper mills that are no longer in use and now house historical archives or museums, or more modern factories where paper production uses new technologies. One of the best-preserved mills in this area, both structurally and because it still preserves its 18th and 19th century production facilities, is located in the small village of Pietrabuona, on the valley floor of the Pescia river. It is called Le Carte and was built in 1710 and later expanded in 1725. The ground floor, with its cross vault ceilings, was used to prepare the mixture and create the sheets of paper. The workshop was on the first floor where the finishing phases were carried out and was home to the papermakers’ families, while the last floor was used to dry the sheets of paper. A year before the Unification of Italy, the Magnani family bought the mill, turning it into the heart of the family business. The paper mill produced exclusively handmade paper up until 1992, the year in which it finally went out of business.

In 2004, the factory was purchased by the Associazione Museo della Carta di Pescia Onlus, an association founded with the aim of safeguarding and perpetuating the ancient art of handmade paper processing and promoting the importance of this material and the development of the production method. It now houses the Paper Museum of Pescia, which preserves period instruments and machinery, watermark wax seals, hole punchers, stamps, cloths and watermarked paper, including that with the effigies of Napoleon and Marie Louise of Austria from 1812. The museum is also home to the historical archive of the Antiche Cartiere Magnani which gathers together numerous historical documents (from the 18th century to the early 21st century) through which the economic activity of the paper mill and its ties with most of Italian and foreign industry can be traced. Finally, thanks to the Master Papermakers of the Magnani Social Enterprise who have resumed the production of handmade watermarked paper, it is possible to participate in educational workshops aimed at learning about the history of papermaking and its techniques.

Fedrigoni Fabriano Foundation

UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts, on the border between the Marche and Umbria, Fabriano is a perfectly preserved, pretty and lively medieval town. The center is formed by a network of streets that offer breathtaking views and is surrounded by the relaxing green landscape of the hills. Genga (TCI orange flag) and the Frasassi Caves are just a few kilometers away. Fabriano, however, remains the city of paper in the collective imagination. The word Fabriano immediately conjures up a sketchbook for most Italians. For many, it is one of the few clear memories of their early schooldays. Who, in Italy, has not used Fabriano paper for technical drawings? The A3 or A4 Fabriano sketchbook was one of the few purchases for which there was no margin for error. Paper is, therefore, an important part of Fabriano. The Fabriano paper industry was started between 1100 and 1200 and expanded especially between the 14th and 15th centuries.

Then, in 2011, the Gianfranco Fedrigoni Foundation – Fabriano was set up. It traces the history, science and art of paper with the aim of promoting and protecting the historical papermaking legacy inherited from the Cartiere Miliani Fabriano. But that it not all. The Fabriano Paper Pavilion houses over 500 linear meters of documents dating back to 1267 and over 10,000 papermaking tools, evidence of a tradition handed down from generation to generation. A wonderful journey, the Pavilion is dedicated entirely to paper and located in the historical site of Cartiere Miliani Fabriano. It was inaugurated in 2019 during the UNESCO Annual Conference. From this precious source, the Foundation promotes intellectual, social and economic development, supporting culture and scientific and technical research.

For example, the latest successful research project ascertained that Raphael also used Fabriano paper. The discovery is the result of a forensic analysis of the artist’s drawings and sketches. Starting from the digitalization of the Corpus Chartarum Fabriano, the impressive project for the digitalization of thousands of Fabriano watermarks, the Foundation has dedicated itself to studying the watermarks on Raphael’s paper and to analyzing the material supports used by the artist. The watermarks on many of Raphael’s drawings are a perfect match with the historical Fabriano watermarks. Michelangelo, Canova, Munari, Beethoven, Bodoni, D’Annunzio, Leopardi, Garibaldi and many other extraordinary men and women were also admirers of Fabriano paper and made excellent use of it.

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