From the Middle Ages, when it was introduced into Sicily by the Arabs, until the mid-20th century, the art of silk has contributed to creating wealth and well-being everywhere in Italy.

For centuries, leader in the European market for silk production, Italy managed all phases of the supply chain: from mulberry seedlings for the production of cocoons, to reeling And twisting of the burrs for the production of silk thread, up to weaving for the packaging of fabrics.

After the Second World War, the sector began its unstoppable decline, culminating in the 1970s with the definitive closure of the spinning mills due to the advent of the production of synthetic fibres, the uncontrolled use of pesticides in agriculture and the nascent Chinese competition, which was impossible to counteract. for costs and production volumes.


Sericulture in Zagarolo

Important activity of the rural economy, also a Zagarolo cocoons and silk thread were produced. As a testimony to the ancient silk supply chain they remain today mulberry plants , ancora diffuse su gran parte del territorio, e l’edificio del centro storico in passato adibito a spinning mill , remembered by the sources and still identified in the local dialect with the name of “thirst chaser” .

“Cacciasete” today.

The sources

The first source that contains a reference to the practice of mulberry cultivation in Zagarolo is from the architect in charge of drawing up a historical economic census of the duchy of Zagarolo when the Colonna family, burdened by the debts contracted by Marzio to follow up on his ambitious urban redevelopment plan started after the victory of Lepanto (1571), they were forced to sell the duchy to the Ludovisi.



Description of the Zagarolo territory

A large road «planted with "celsi", which was already designated by Duke Martio to end in an ancient circle at the foot of Colle del Pero (il Tondo)».

Very interesting documents are the Registri delle Entrate e delle Uscite del Fondo Rospigliosi, kept in the Vatican Apostolic Archive and drawn up between 1814 and 1835 in order to account for the financial movements of the Rospigliosi family concerning Zagarolo. In the list, the income includes the rent "of the silk factory in Zagarolo" and the sale of cocoons and mulberry leaves, while the expenses include the cost of repairing baskets, boilers, scales and reels used in the spinning mill.

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Entry and exit of the tax collector
for the Zagarolo company

30 June 1814. […] received […] 6 scudi from Ottavia, wife of Gio. Mazzoni, winemaker in S. Cesareo as a settlement for half of the silkworm product produced this year.

14 September 1814. From Franco Scalzi one hundred and twenty scudi in settlement of the answer for one year or so [...] of the silk factory in Zagarolo according to the time.

25 September 1819. From Franco Scalzi one hundred and thirty scudi in settlement of the rent of the silk factory in Zagarolo for the fall season.

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Entry and exit for rent etc...
by Zagarolo

ƒ.141 – 1821. Silk factory for shopping with fruits.

On April 30th: 9.50 rta from credit to the Minister Menghini paid for the restoration of the boilers.
As of June 30th: 42 rts in credit to Pietro Quaranta Ferraro for repairs and car compensation as per account.
Today: 106 rte to the Master of the Petrucci House he paid, i.e. 6.80 for 12 gut strings, 1,122 to the scadararo for the restoration of the scales, 84 to the turner for reels, wheels and wheels […].

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Entry and exit book
for the Minister in Zagarolo

On 31 July 1826: 12 scudi taken from the sale of moricelsi leaves in S. Cesareo and Vetrice.

On 19 August 1826: 1.9 scudi paid for having had the reed beds renewed to spread the silkworms at the factory.

On 30 September 1830: 109.14 scudi paid as a surplus to account for the work of the factory in the past year.

The cadastral census promoted by Pius VII in 1816 and activated by Gregory XVI in 1835 proves to be a rich source of information, with the aim of registering the lands and buildings present within the borders of the Papal State: in the registers of the owners contained therein and concerning Zagarolo , compared to the more generic «Frutti» often present in the description of the type of cultivation, the specific indication «Mori Gelsi» is a clear reference to the sericultural activity that was practiced in the area, the only one capable of exploiting the mulberries, because if they used the leaves to feed silkworms.



Brogliardi by Zagarolo

Based on the surveys carried out in 1819, around twenty pieces of land distributed widely throughout the Gabino area are registered as «Arable land with Mori Gelsi» , «Mezzagna with Mori Gelsi» , infine «Vineyard with Fruits and Mulberries» .

The Zagarolo spinning mill, surveyed in a building on the hill, is listed as 'House for the use of Silkwashers'. owned by Prince Giuseppe Rospigliosi.

Map of Zagarolo

The cadastral surveys were carried out between 4 May and 21 September 1819.
The map highlights the spinning mill and the land cultivated with mulberry trees, distinguished based on the type and ownership.

Additional publications we consulted converge in support, such as theStatistical topography of the Papal State , written by the doctor and polygrapher Adone Palmieri in 1857 containing an in-depth historical and economic excursus on the municipalities and lands that fell within the administrative boundaries of the Comarca of Rome. The author opens the book by describing the work of widespread planting of tree species that was carried out from the second half of the 19th century, underlining in particular that «from 1850 to the end of 1855 […] 6321 mulberry trees were awarded», and continues in his walk through the municipalities of the Roman province mentioning the spinning mills of Albano, Frascati, Palestrina, and finally the «large silk spinning mill» of Zagarolo. The latter news was confirmed four years later by the bibliographer and pontifical dignitary Gaetano Moroni in the last volume of his Dictionary of historical-ecclesiastical erudition  of 1861, which under the heading Zagarolo reports "has a silk spinning mill."

The most recent document in which the spinning mill is mentioned is, finally, an anonymous typescript from 1958, initialed only «cg» and traced in the Diocesan Historical Archives of Palestrina, in which it is noted «it is relevant that in the same street ( del Colle, ed.) there is news of a silk spinning mill".

Let's reconstruct history!

Our research continues through the collection and analysis of further written and oral sources, leaving this page open to the contribution of anyone who wishes to share documents, news, photographs and testimonies on the silk activity in Zagarolo.


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