History of Italian Silk Production
Silk first reached Europe from China around AD 550. Chinese silk was used in the Roman empire and was even mentioned in 'The Odyssey' by Homer. Aristotle talked about silk being produced on the Greek island of Kos.
Italy has had a long tradition of producing silk. It is thought that Mulberry trees, essential for breeding silk worms, were introduced by the Byzantines to southern Italy during the 9th century. By the 11th century, Calabria had cultivated 24,000 Mulberry trees.
Silk stemma from Catanzaro
The Calabrian province of Catanzaro became the centre of Italian silk production around the 10th century. The port of Reggio Calabria exported their products to Spain, Venice, Genoa, Florence and Holland, servicing the whole of Europe. By the end of the 16th Century, Catanzaro was the capital of European silk production, with a huge silkworm breeding capacity, feeding 1,000 looms employing 5,000 workers. Half of all of European silk was produced in Catanzaro who counted the Pope as one of their customers!
Italian Silk 14th century
During the Middle Ages, Italy became the main producer of silk products. Over a period of time, production started to move from the south of Italy to the north. Cities such as Lucca and Florence in Tuscany, Venice and Genoa were at the centre of these developments. By 1472, there were 84 workshops and 7,000 crafstmen working in Florence.
Italian silk furnishing fabric, 17th century
In 1400, The Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, planted mulberry trees around Lake Como, which established the Po Valley as the new centre of silk production. Vicenza and Verona became the largest producers of raw silk, providing the resources for a thriving Italian silk industry. In 1972, Lake Como was producing more silk than China and Japan.
Como silk museum