First Paper Mill in Europe

The Spanish and Italians vie for the title of first producer of plant-based paper in European history. Spain claims the year 1056, Sicily 1102. If 1056 is dismissed due to “limited evidence,” then Valencia is second, with its mill in 1150. I believe the Spanish claims, it is logical that the Muslim Caliphates brought paper making technology into the Iberian Peninsula after they took over the majority of it in the 8th century. That is more logical than the claims I’ve seen that the Europeans brought the technology from the Middle East during the Crusades. (Here’s a blow for Christianity, and I’ll take that paper screen?)

Hence, the very first paper mill in Europe was in Xàtiva, Spain in 1056 (See Jativa, the Spanish spelling, on the map below near Valencia.) The Albaida River was the water source and linen fields nearby provided the fibers. The Muslim occupation of Spain helped transmit so much knowledge into Europe; algebra, chemistry, windmills, and plant-based paper technology. El Cid destroyed the original mill in his conquest in 1092, another mill was built by 1150, and a hydraulic mill at Játiva was funded by King Pedro III in 1282.

Until the 1300s, the Christian holy book was written on European parchment made from the skins of young animals. The advantages were that it was a durable, smooth writing surface. However, it made books costly and only for the very rich. A scribe could finishing copying only one book a year. That scarcity of reading material in turn made literacy uncommon.

It is curious why another type of paper was not created. The clergy seemed hidebound to use only animal product paper for Bibles. Did they want to retain the information for themselves and wealthy citizens? Paper was created in China and the knowledge made its way to Samarkand in present day Uzbekistan in 751. From there, Muslim Caliphs brought it to Morocco, then Spain (and Sicily).

According to Valencian history, the paper made in Xátiva was so popular in England that the word we use is derived from the Valencian, paper.

What is your favorite kind of paper?

Olé to Xàtiva! –Rebecca

Map of Spain 1150 Map by: William Robert Shepherd, Image courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries
Rebecca Cuningham

12 thoughts on “First Paper Mill in Europe

  1. A very interesting post indeed Rebecca. Yes, here in València we did benefit much from the Moors that “visited” our lands but they wore out their welcome and we had to chase them out. Xàtiva is quite lovely and a popular place where many “capitalinos” escape to for a day trip or the weekend. Thank you for a lovely article and all the best 😊

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  2. Rebecca, I agree with you that it’s logical that the Muslims in southern Spain would have transferred expertise from other parts of their empire. Also, it’s a perfect case of the history being written by the victors. The Christians at the time would have us believe differently, but the science and medicine in the Islamic world were decades ahead Western Europe. BTW, love the old map of Spain. ~James

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you like the map. You’ve hit the subject on the head in terms of the religious conflicts playing out in paper choice. Christians used parchment only for a time and rejected plant-based papers as Muslim and Jewish inventions to be avoided. I think the people in power were clear that literacy was not to be encouraged and so books were made rare.

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