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