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I had read about this museum on Ingrid’s page and was really keen to visit, which is mainly why I was so pleased when she suggested that our day out from Gubbio might take in Fabriano. It is quite surprising to consider that an invention so widely known and used around the world came out of this fairly unprepossessing town, but so it is – in Fabriano the watermark was born. And to learn all about this, and also about the history of paper-making, you should visit this museum.
It is located in the old cloisters of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore, to the south west of the town centre. When we arrived it was only 15 minutes before the lunch-time closure (13.30 – 14.30) but a helpful member of staff allowed us to go in and gave us a quick tour of the paper-making machinery and explained some of the history. We were then left to wander the remaining exhibits even though by now it was well after closing time. It was only when we left that I realised that some staff had stayed on in the ticket hall rather than go to lunch, presumably because we were still looking round inside – how kind of them, if so.
But to the exhibits ... As I said, the first area we visited was the one where the history of paper-making is described. And not only described – we were given a demonstration of some of the old equipment in action, including a noisy but surprisingly effective (given its age) hammer mill. The hammers beat the fabric until it breaks down into fibres which are then soaked in huge vats. The real skill comes in making the actual sheets of paper, as just the right amount of pulp has to be scooped up on to the mesh frames and tilted this way and that until most of the liquid has run off, leaving a very soggy but recognisable sheet of paper behind. This is then skilfully tipped on to a piece of felt, another piece of felt put on top of this, then a paper sheet and so on. The layers are pressed to remove most of the excess water and then hung to dry. When you watch this demonstration and see the skill and time involved, you can easily appreciate why hand-made paper is not cheap.
Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the demonstration (goodness knows why not!), or of any of the indoor exhibits, but there are a few paper-making mills from different periods in the central courtyard where it is permitted to take photographs. The one in my first photo is very similar to the one he used, except that it has a single hammer and the one inside has three – a technological improvement that allowed them to make paper more quickly.
Paper-making came to Europe from China via the Silk Route and the Middle East. It is thought that it was the Arabs who taught the skill to the early paper-makers of Fabriano, using linen and hemp as the raw materials. And why here in this small town? Well, Fabriano is perfectly located, close to the port of Ancona where many Arab traders would have landed, and also, it had a tradition of craftsmanship. But the Fabrianese refined the techniques and improved the quality of the paper over time, making it smoother and more durable. They invented the hammer mill in the 13th century, replacing the stone mortar and manual wooden beater used by the Arabs to hammer rags, which yielding more even fibres. And they introduced the use of animal gelatine for sizing the surface of the paper, allowing for better writing and also, perhaps more importantly, allowing it to be used for the first time for official documents (up till then parchment had been preferred because paper’s wheat starch sizing too quickly went mouldy)
With the invention of printing in the 15th century paper really came into its own, as this quicker and more efficient way of producing books demanded a quicker and more efficient way of making the material on which to print them. Arguably this marriage of paper-making and printing changed the world for good.
But if Fabriano adopted and refined the eastern invention of paper-making, it also invented something for itself, the watermark. And much of the rest of the museum is devoted to this. A watermark can be used as a sort of signature to indicate the maker, and also, in its more sophisticated form, as a protection against counterfeiting (e.g. on paper to be used for banknotes and postage stamps). At the museum we saw how the earliest watermarks (dating back to the 15th century) were very simple designs such as a leaf or trefoil, and were made from twisted wire. When attached to the mesh in the paper-making frame, this has the effect of causing the paper to be a little thinner at this point, and it is this thinness that creates the faint image on the paper as light passes through more easily.
Many of the upstairs galleries are devoted to displays of watermarks through the ages, showing how these became more and more elaborate as techniques improved. Some were truly beautiful, like small works of art!
The museum also has galleries devoted to changing displays (there was an exhibition of watercolours when we visited, some of them very good). Off the ticket hall there is a small shop selling beautiful goods made from the paper produced here – notebooks, writing paper, cards etc. I bought four small notebooks to give as gifts to the organisers of the Bergamo Euromeeting.
Admission to the museum is €5.90 for adults with discounts available for students, children and over 65s. The fee includes the tour and demonstration. There are also various workshops and classes in paper-making. Opening hours are a bit complicated, so check the website for these and for the times of the tours. Arriving when we did, Ingrid and I got a personal tour and had the museum more or less to ourselves, but it can get busy with school classes in particular, so if you are a large group you might want to book in advance.
The museum’s website, below, is packed with information about the history of paper-making in general and in Fabriano in particular, as well as more about the town, all in English – very useful for any visitor to the town. Paper-making is still an important industry in Fabriano, by the way – on our way into town we passed the big Fabriano factory where high quality paper is made and exported all over the world.
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Written Jul 15, 2012
Address: Largo Fratelli Spacca, 2 I-60044 Fabriano
Phone: 0732 -709297
Fabriano is about more than just the Museo delle carta, however fascinating that is. Make sure you allow some time to explore the rest of the town. I especially enjoyed the Piazza del Comune, Fabriano’s main square. Here we sat for a while over a coffee, admiring the lovely buildings that surround the square. These include the Palazzo Vescovile with the Torre Civico (main photo and photo four), the 14th century Palazzo del Comune (on the right in photo two) and 13th century Palazzo del Podestá (on the left on photo two, and in photo three). This latter is the most striking of the piazza’s buildings, with its distinctive swallow-tailed Ghibelline battlements (indicating that the Chiavelli family, who ruled Fabriano, were supporters of the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th and 13th century struggles between this and the Papacy). Today it houses the Magistrates Court. The distinctive arched bridge on one side (which I sadly seem to have omitted to photograph) is a legacy of the time when a stream once flowed past this spot.
In front of the Palazzo del Podestá is a lovely fountain, the Fontana Sturinalto, subject of my next tip.
Updated Jul 15, 2012
The Fontana Sturinalto caught my eye as soon as we arrived in the Piazza del Comune. Its setting, just in front of the Palazzo del Podestá, is perfect, and its elegant shape is a great foil for the more angular stonework and swallow-tailed battlements of the palazzo. It is also a big attraction for the local pigeon population it seems!
The fountain was constructed in 1285 and restored in 1351. It was designed by Jacopo di Gronoldo, who is said to have been inspired by a similar, more ornate fountain in Perugia, the Fontana Maggiore, which was built in 1278 by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.
The fountain even has its own Facebook page, with some interesting old photos of the fountain and piazza.
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Updated Jul 15, 2012
Above the café where we had coffee, and the helpful tourist office, runs an elegant loggia, the Loggiato di San Francesco. This is unusual among Italian loggias, being on the first floor rather than at ground level. It has 19 arches some dating back to the 15th century when the loggia was built, and others more recent additions. The vaulted ceiling is decorated with delicate frescos of foliage as seen in my main photo, and the walls incorporate traces of earlier buildings such as the Chiesa San Francesco which used to stand on this spot until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1741 (see photo two).
Somehow I was feeling a little tired and headachy when we first arrived in Fabriano (the caffee doppio in the piazza soon took care of that!) and I omitted to take any pictures of the loggia as a whole, so my photos only show these details. To see what the loggia looks like, have a look at the main photo in Ingrid’s tip.
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Written Jul 15, 2012
Oh yes, the gateway beneath Palazzo del Podestá! It is worth a closer look. It must have looked marvellous after completion in 13-14th century. Now, maybe due to the earthquake and emissions, only part of its magnificent frescoes are left. I have read that they depict scenes of warriors at war and a female figure moving the wheel of fortune. I have to admit that I couldn’t make these out, but this didn’t matter to me. I was amazed of how rich the colours were, after almost 800 years! Maybe the friendly girl in the tourist office knows more about these frescoes, maybe there is even a drawing of how they looked like in the whole. But as I spent one and a half of my three days in the paper museum and one in the caves, there wasn’t much time left to ask her.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
Address: Palazzo del Podestà, Fabriano
Piazza del Comune is Fabriano’s main plaza and actually a beautiful one (even in the cloudy April 2008 weather). There is Palazzo del Comune (of 1350, municipaliyt, photo 3) and opposite the former bishop’s Palazzo Vescovile with the Torre Civico (photo 5). But the dominating building in the middle is the marvellous Palazzo del Podestà (of 1255) with its swallow-tailed ghibelline pinnacles at the top. Ghibelline, as the Chiavelli family, which was living in what is nearby Palazzo del Commune today, was supporting the emperor (and not the pope). Quite interesting is the kind of bridge/stairs that lead to the Palazzo on the right (east) side: they symbolise a way over the antique citadel river which flowed beneath the city. The Palazzo houses the Magistrate Court. And in the long corridor are permanent collections of photographs of Gentile Fabrinao’s artwork. At least he is represented with photos in his hometown.
But what I liked most was the fountain in front of the Palazzos: it looks like Fontana Maggiore in Perugia (which I only know from photos). It is said that the designer Jacopo di Gronoldo was inspired by the Perugia one when he worked on this one for Fabriano. The style is similar, with two stone basins and one made of bronze on the top. It does lack the decoration of Fontana Maggiore, but I liked it more the way it is, it fits much better to this harsh beauty of Fabriano.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
Address: Piazza del Comune, Fabriano
These kinds of loggias are very much prominent throughout almost all Italy but somehow I liked this best of all the ones I saw. It is elevated (first floor) and sits on what houses cafes and the tourist office today. It has 19 arches in total, some have been added later than 15th century (which is when the loggia was built) and it is connecting to the municipality (Palazzo del Comune) now. The most fascinating with this loggia are the faded and partly restored frescoes in the vaults (photos 2 and 3) but the best of all are the former arches from the Chiesa S. Francesco, which was standing here until it was demolished during a former earthquake (in 1741). Look at how fantastic these are incorporated into the wall of the new building (photo 4). That’s something I found throughout all Umbria and I am sure that it is also very popular for Marche – “recycling” of what was left after destruction or earthquakes.
I found myself sitting here quite often in evenings – the atmosphere is wonderful! And it must be wonderful as well in summer, when everything is a bit more buzzing with life.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
Address: Piazza del Comune, Fabriano
Opposite of the Pinacoteca Civile is Fabriano’s duomo. From the outside it looks like most of the Italian churches from 14th century, but the inside is very much surprising: pure baroque with overly decorated white walls and pillars and very colourful paintings.
One remark, the reason why I don’t write more about the artwork inside: in Fabriano’s official leaflets and its website, the photos of the interior are described to be of Chiesa di San Benedetto, a couple of hundred metres to the west from the duomo. Now I am not in a position to correct their explanations, they should know better. But I know that I was in the duomo (I didn’t walk further west). So I leave it up to you readers to find out where this discrepancy comes from. I only realised this after I left the city, and it was too late to ask the friendly tourist office girl.
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10:00-13:00 and 16:00-19:00 (as of April 2008)
Entrance fee: no entrance fee, but it would be polite to leave a small donation in the boxes (remember the incredible work, Fabriano needed and still needs after the horrible earthquake).
Updated Apr 4, 2011
.. e della filigrana (which is the full name of this museum).
When it comes to pilgrimages, Christians go to the Vatican, Muslims go to Mecca, Buddhists would go to Tibet if it would still exist (and not be massacred by Dragonland) and I go to the cradles of “industrialisation” or origins of handicrafts. So I was thrilled to learn that Fabriano was a very important centre of paper making in the old days and is the cradle of the watermark, which was invented here in 1287. Most logical that there is a museum which is dedicated entirely to paper making and the watermark. This museum was definitely one of the highlights of my central Italy trip in April 2008 and I will definitely come again.
It is located in the cloister of the adjacent Chiesa del Sacro Cuore in the south of town and seems to be very busy all year long. While I was there (twice), masses of schoolkids were there to learn about paper making. And the employees of the museum are very much dedicated to their exhibits and the history of this magnificent artwork. They speak many languages so you can get tours in English, German, French and Spanish as well.
The museum has all the old traditional equipment including a hydraulic multiple hammer mill, where the cotton fabric is transformed into the raw material for the paper paste. It is fascinating when they start to operate this mill – 3x3 wooden hammers hit the fabric in slightly different tacts to tear it into pieces and then later into the raw cotton fibres (photographing inside is not allowed, but photo 2 is a similar mill, with only one hammer). The paper paste is then constantly refilled and stirred in huge basins and each group gets a demonstration of how the paper is dipped on the old screens – a masterful skill this is! The workers dip 2 sheets, which are then put on felt and when enough sheets have been made, the stack is being pre-dried in a press. For further drying they are hanged on a specific drying equipment. Now you can imagine that there is a huge daily output of handmade paper, and this all goes into the museum workshops where three very much skillful artists make the most magnificent things, which can be purchased in the big shop.
But the museum is not only about paper making but also about the invention and development of watermarks. On the upper floor they have a huge exhibition of all kinds of watermarks which were designed and made here, mostly for rulers of the different countries in Europe and overseas and also some of the first banknotes that were made with watermarks as a security feature. Another exhibition describes the steps in development of watermarks, how the picture is engraved in a thick wax plate, how the positive and negative moulds were made and how they have been used to create three-dimensional watermarks.
In the basement’s courtyard are exhibits of other machines and equipment and a very extensive description of paper history and of course Fabriano’s history in this context, featuring Miliani ‘s paper empire.
I can highly recommend to visit this museum and if you have similar interests like me, it is easy to spend one full day there. The employees will answer every question you might have and the shop is divine!!
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m to 6 p.m.
Entrance fees: 5,30 € (adults), 4,20 € (student groups), children under 6 are free.
(there is a combination ticket available for Pinacoteca – see further on – and the Museo della Carta, which reduces the entrance fee).
What must be fascinating as well, but only with prior notice, are workshops on traditional paper making. These are held over 3-5 days (daily 2,5 hours) and cost only 16,50 € per day. Well, there is always a next time and I will definitely go back to Fabriano.
I’ve described the watermarks in a separate tip in the general section:
oh holy watermark
Updated Jan 17, 2009
Address: Largo Fratelli Spacca, 2 I-60044 Fabriano (AN)
Phone: +39 - 0732 -709297
While I was wandering through Fabriano, I found this house next to the duomo. It reminded me immediately of Christine’s mysterious house in Mannheim, as it has similar friezes above the windows. They all depict scenes, most probably of Fabriano’s history (what else…). But as I didn’t find any explanation anywhere, I must come back to ask the tourist office girl about their meanings. There is a scene with a bishop or a duke, someone brings a paper, maybe a contract (main photo), then a marriage (photo 2), a war scene (photo 3) and then a scene where someone dies (photo 4). Maybe an artist, as there is an artist’s palette in the room. But Gentile Fabriano, the city’s most famous artist, died in Rome. So there ist much mystery to the house. Next time I’ll find out, because I will come back to this beautiful city!
Updated Jan 13, 2009
Address: Piazza A. Savola, Fabriano