The Brescia side of Garda reserves not only beaches and villages to visit, but also numerous places that tell the story of these territories over time. Like the Paper Museum, which is located near Toscolano Maderno and, more precisely, in the Valle delle Cartiere.
These places had been used for centuries for the production of paper, from the earliest times in which it was made by hand to the recent ones, in which every page of books and documents is produced industrially.
The Valle delle Cartiere and the history of printing on Lake Garda
If you are on the west coast of Lake Garda, you can easily move to the Valle delle Cartiere, which is now considered an Eco Museum (i.e. open-air), which involves every visitor in its beauty and wealth of resources.
Entering the hinterland of Toscolano Maderno, towards the mountainous reliefs, one encounters this center of excellence in the Valle delle Cartiere, known since the end of the 14th century for its potential in the paper sector. The richness of the water that was used to produce paper, with the driving energy given to the machines, came from the Toscolano river that crosses the valley and made paper processing possible.
The first paper mill was already functioning in 1381 and, after the invention of printing at the end of the fifteenth century, there were many paper production activities that arose in this valley; also thanks to the Venetian printers, who on the shores of the lake published some of the most beautiful Renaissance editions with the sheets of Toscolano.
The factories were active for centuries in the printing-paper supply chain, and there were up to 61 paper mills side by side, which in modern times have been used by important Italian and foreign paper manufacturers. Only in the early twentieth century the activity of the Valle delle Cartiere begins to decline, electricity replaces water and the production of paper moves over the decades to the shores of the lake, where the Toscolano paper mill is still located.
The valley began to depopulate and in the 1960s paper production came to a halt, also for reasons connected with competition and the fall in the price of paper.
Today the remaining factories are visible in various places in the valley such as Quattroruote, whose name derives from the wheels of the factory that moved the pestles (mallets) to grind the rags in water and then prepare the paper pulp. The artisan paper sheets, in fact, were created starting from the refining of this paper, which is then passed to the vat, pressed, sized, and wafered (with the cialander tool) to increase its smoothness, reduce its thickness and increase the effect shiny.
The entire Valle delle Cartiere of Toscolano Maderno is considered an industrial archeology site now studied by the University of Padua, with excavations to bring to light the medieval and Renaissance history of this locality. The remains of three ancient paper mills active from the fifteenth to the twentieth century were found under dense vegetation and rubble.
Even today, although everything has changed, these places offer you both a nature trail and an excursion that leads to a cultural visit of what is the pivot: the Paper Museum located in Toscolano Maderno.
How to visit the Paper Museum
The Museum is located in the Valle delle Cartiere, therefore an opportunity to make a cultural visit also a naturalistic excursion. It is housed at the Center of Excellence of the Maina Inferiore Paper Pole in Toscolano Maderno, in a highly suggestive path.
If you are wondering how to get to the Toscolano Maderno Paper Museum, know that there is a small train that connects the Valle delle Cartiere with the Maderno sul Garda lakefront, active during the tourist season from 1 April to 31 October. Otherwise, the locality of Maina (the stretch of the Valley that housed the paper mills) can be easily reached by car or on foot (i suggest it as it’s a small path and it’s very fresh during summer time), with a path with an exciting landscape – both for the beauty of the places and for the narrow mountain road.
At the Toscolano Maderno Paper Museum you will find an old factory, abandoned in 1962, which today houses the finds of industrial archeology of the local paper production. The rooms of the museum involve visitors in a historical journey on paper, and on its ways of creation over the centuries.
The sections of the museum are divided into the first, dedicated to the history of paper production, and the second dedicated to paper in contemporary industry, with an illustration of the technical evolutions of paper mills in recent times. There are explanatory panels, video supports but also the vision of the historical machinery with which each sheet was made starting from the rags.
The wooden pestles, also known as mallets or “goblins” are exhibited to shred the rags and obtain the paper pulp; the vats for sieving the dough, the maceration tanks, the presses and the structures for drying the sheets.
From the mid-nineteenth century, wood began to be used to produce paper pulp, and then raw materials other than rags such as cellulose and hemp rope. Then the mechanical systems increased, still used today in the Toscolano paper mill on the lake.
The recovery of the industrial buildings started in 2000, to restore the production center for the production of special and watermarked artisan papers; not only with the idea of preserving a historically fundamental paper mill but also to adapt them in a functional way to the existing complex, making it the seat of various activities focused on the world of paper.
Thus was born the Museum of Paper, as a site suitable above all for children, who can discover with educational visits how a hand-made sheet of paper is born – how it was born yesterday and how it is built today. The Museum also disseminates the knowledge of paper as an asset to be preserved, with all its contemporary eco-sustainability implications. A place used to raise awareness of waste and for the defense of paper.
In fact, educational workshops for schools and guided visits to the Valle delle Cartiere can also be followed – visits by schools or organized groups are possible all year round by reservation, while individuals can access the museum from Easter to October. period in which the Toscolano Maderno Paper Museum is open every day, including holidays.
What to visit around the Museum
The town of the Valle delle Cartiere also offers refreshment points, as the museum has a bar-restaurant with a splendid view.
The landscape here is very suggestive, thanks to the remains of the paper mills inserted in the dense vegetation and between the deep gorges, or rather the rocky gorges created by the Toscolano river that flows in some points between the high mountain walls. The green has re-appropriated the territory, in some cases submerging the ancient canals that carried water to the factories, and surrounding the streets: a unique panorama, to be visited together with the Paper Museum.
Furthermore, this territory is part of the Alto Garda Bresciano Natural Park, which offers spectacular routes near the shore of western Lake Garda.