We initially did not understand that there are two separate sites promoting Valencia’s historical silk industry. One is the The Lonja de la Seda, or Silk Exchange, used as the center for commerce in the silk trade, the second is the Silk Museum.
The Silk Exchange was built during Valencia’s golden age, the 15th century, when the Kingdom of Valencia was at its economic and cultural peak, serving as the flagship of the Crown of Aragon. Lonja de la Seda, is an excellent example of Gothic civil architecture and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Opposite to the Silk Exchange, stands the no less impressive Central Market, our favorite fresh food market, with its wrought-iron, ceramic and glass cupolas.
Today’s visit, however, found us at the fascinating Valencia Silk Museum. Perhaps naively, our expectations were to see silk fabrics and garments, which we did, but the museum offered much more and we learned so very much more. For example, something that I did not know prior to this visit, was that velvet was once only made from silk. Because of its unusual softness and appearance, as well as its high cost of production, often only nobility could afford it.
The Valencia Silk Museum is housed in the Colegio del Arte Mayor de la Seda (Higher Art College of Silk), which dates back to the 15th century. The College was created to unify the criteria for the production of silk in Valencia, given the conflicts caused by the lack of quality of some producers. In 1479, the Velluters Guild, made up of velvet weavers, adopted the first bylaws of the guild. The headquarters of the Guild are in the neighborhood that was named Velluters (velvet weavers) due to the high concentration of looms located here. Once, in 1767, there were about five thousand looms that provided jobs for nearly half the population of Valencia.
The museum building itself has three principal rooms of interest.
First is the Hall of Fame. This is the main room and the place where the heads of the institution and guild would meet. The main attractions are the ceiling fresco and the magnificent 18th century Valencian ceramic floor.
Next is a chapel, with a green and white tiled floor that creates an interesting optical illusion.
Finally, the archives, preserved for over five centuries, contain 48 scrolls, 660 books and 97 file boxes containing the historical records of the silk trade. We saw magnificent old binders of books that would have been wonderful to delve into. Unfortunately you cannot touch them; one can dream though. Most of the documents refer to the velvet weavers guild, although some materials from other guilds are also preserved. The history within these archives, understandably, contributes valuable information of Valencia’s economic history.
A visit to this museum shows how silk came to Valencia, and how important it was for over five hundred years. This cultural heritage can still be seen today in the traditional dress worn at Valencia’s festivals (Las Fallas and more). The museum has examples of working antique looms, the typical rows of shelves, or ‘andana’, where the silk worms were bred, the tools of the trade, silk cloth, antique garments, and the valuable historical written archives.
The production of silk created many spin off industries as well. The white mulberry tree, grown in Valencia, was cultivated to feed the silkworms for the silk-factories of València and was a source of great wealth. Additionally, much of the valuable raw silk was exported to Italy. The province of València was also a notable producer of satin, silk ribbons, tassels and velvet.
What an interesting museum! We loved learning the history of Valencian silk.
(click on any picture to go to slideshow mode)