The paper trail
Capellades paper museum
Salvador Claramont struggled to put one rheumatic leg up on the concrete bench in front of the fence and looked down into the valley. “The river has always been like that, even before they built the road. Maybe they changed the course a little,” he mused. “But the vegetable patches. There are far less vegetable patches. There’s no water.”
Claramont stood on the eastern edge of the village of Capellades, where the terrain suddenly plunges down and rises up steeply again; the sunny hillside opposite looks like it should be covered in vineyards. Down in the valley, the C-15 road from Vilafranca del Penedès and the R6 railway from Barcelona run parallel to, and above, the Anoia river.
Capellades, and its 5,300 residents, lies 60 kilometres from Barcelona—a 40-minute drive that takes one past the impressive Montserrat mountain range, through a landscape that would be stunningly beautiful, were it not dotted with industrial plants and warehouses, and criss-crossed by overland electricity lines. Catalan flags are painted on rocks, and calls for independence written on walls.
“The water is a problem. It doesn’t rain enough, and when it does, the soil can’t soak it up.” His companion, Pere Casals, nodded gravely. “Have you seen the reservoir next to the paper museum? It’s empty! Some politicians had the idea of making it impermeable, you know, like a swimming pool…but then there were all these people who said it had to remain natural. So there is no water.”
Even with the reservoir dry, the paper museum is Capellades’s biggest attraction. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the village supplied much of the Spanish and overseas markets with high-quality writing and smoking paper. The old machinery was restored in the Fifties, and today most Catalan children remember Capellades for the school trip on which they made their own paper.
The upper two floors of the old building are now exhibition and working spaces, but used to be where the sheets were hung for drying. “Pay particular attention to the many windows, 18 on each side,” Ana, one of the young girls who work as guides in the museum, said. She obviously enjoyed her job; like a young woman showing her new house to her parents, she pointed out every detail enthusiastically. “Why was there so much paper production here?” a visitor asked. “Are the trees particularly good?”
Ana smiled. “No, back then paper wasn’t made out of trees, but from cotton. It was because of the water. The reservoir over there is fed by an underground source, so the water is very clean. And it was also the force driving the machines.”
Much of the basement hall is taken up by stone bathtubs filled with water and rags. Two hundred years ago, people used to sell their old clothes to the factory, where they were cut up and cleaned of dust and fleas by centrifugal force, in something resembling a hand-operated version of a tumble dryer. Afterwards, the tatters were bleached in a brine of ashes and lime, before being transferred to a row of stone basins, where they would be stomped to a pulp by large, heavy logs. The logs are attached to a strong wood beam, which again used to be attached to a wheel behind the back wall, where the water passes. Only one of the wheels is still active, but the stomping mechanism still works—electrically. “Look out, I’ll switch it on.” Despite Ana’s warning, the visitors jumped as the big logs started pounding the stone basins under ear-splitting noise.
Then, the most complicated part of the process begins. A highly-skilled professional mixes the cotton mash with water in yet another basin; the composition determines the thickness of the paper. The mash is poured over a screen, sometimes decorated with a stencilled drawing or sign, and left on an absorbing cloth to dry. A stack is then pressed out in a squeezing machine and hung in the attic to dry.
Paper was of tremendous importance to this part of Catalunya. The Arabs introduced paper to the Iberian peninsula in the 10th century, and some 300 years later a new system of fabrication was developed in Italy. It is the same one that can still be seen in the Capellades museum, and its first recorded mention in Catalunya was in the 15th century.
Close by Capellades is the Pobla de Claramunt, and the sites of a half dozen paper mills can still be visited. The region’s first mill was built on the Anoia River in 1632. In addition to visiting the sites of mills along the river, visitors can tour the 10th-century Castell de Claramunt. It is one of the 10 largest in Catalunya, and has survived two different incarnations of the village. The first settlement by the banks of the Anoia were obliterated by flooding in 1344 and the ruling lords of the castle set about attracting people to come and live in a new village close by.
However, this region was populated long before there were villages or castles, or paper, or any other mark of civilisation. In fact, archaeological remains being excavated at Capellades make it the second oldest site of human habitation yet discovered in Spain, behind only the caves in Altamira. Salvador Claramont and Pere Casals headed for the l'abric Romaní, as the dig is called. The archaeological site from the middle Palaeolithic era (around 50,000 BCE) is Capellades’s second-biggest attraction: even though to the unschooled eye, it looks like a hole in the ground adorned with wires and plastic cards bearing numbers.
Claramont and Casals walked through the little streets of the old town. A group of children with yellow bandanas had just returned from a cycling tour and formed a noisy crowd in front of the beautiful old Church of Santa Maria, in the historic town centre. Behind the church, a large mural called for the end of war, not specifying which war it meant. “It is difficult to say whether our town is peaceful or boring,” Claramont said and laughed. “But, hey, what does it matter?”
To get to Capellades...
Drive on the A-7 in the direction of Martorell and exit at the sign for Igualada Est. Go to the roundabout and follow the signs.
Take the Ferrocarril de la Generalitat from Plaça Espanya in the direction of Igualdada. It leaves the station at six minutes past the hour during the day and stops in Capellades. The trip takes nearly an hour.
Capellades has a municipal website:
To learn about La Poble de Claramunt: