Italy has had a long tradition in silk production, which reached Europe from China around AD 550. Although Chinese silk was known in the Roman Empire, and was even mentioned by Homer in 'The Odyssey, and by Aristotle, who talked about a wild silk textile from the island of Kos.
It is thought that mulberry trees, used in the production of raw silk, were introduced to southern Italy by the Byzantines at the end of the ninth century. By the beginning of the 11th century, the region of Calabria had 24,000, mulberry trees in cultivation.
Italian silk furnishing fabric, 17th century
Silk Production Italy
The province of Catanzaro was the centre of silk production in Italy between the 9th and the 11th century. They supplied almost the whole of Europe, selling it to Spanish, Venetian, Genoese, Florentine and Dutch merchants from the port of Reggio Calabria. By the 17th century, Catanzaro had become the silk capital of Europe, with an impressive silkworm breeding facility and over 1,000 looms employing 5,000 people. They produced 50% of all the silk in Europe, including all of the silk based fabrics used in the Vatican.
Como silk museum
Italy became the most important producer of silk products during the Middle Ages. Gradually, production moved from Calabria to the north of Italy, to cities such as Lucca, Genoa, Venice and Florence. By 1472 there were 84 workshops and at least 7000 craftsmen in Florence alone.
Italian Silk 14th century
Handmade Silk from Italy
Silk production also became prevalent in various areas of the Po Valley; Vicenza and Verona becoming the biggest European producers of raw silk, forming the backbone of a thriving Italian silk production industry. In 1400, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, planted mulberry trees around Lake Como, starting a long-lasting and profitable business in Italian silk production. By 1972 silk production from Lake Como had exceeded that of both China and Japan.
Silk stemma from Catanzaro