Following the silk route to discover its origins takes us through Byzantium to the Iberian Peninsula and from here to Japan and the Americas. We’re in luck, because as the nerve centre, Valencia will show us its stepswithout the need to travel the world to find out about this mysterious route.
The expansion of Islam in the Mediterranean was responsible for the introduction of silk into the Iberian Peninsula in the 13th century. Mulberry trees were cultivated in the surrounding region of the rich huerta valenciana and the fabric was manufactured in the "Velluters” neighbourhood, a word that comes from the Valencian "vellut”, meaning velvet.
Today, "Velluters” still preserves its former atmosphere, with mansions and labyrinthine streets. The 5,000+ registered workshops were concentrated there and the Higher Art College of Silk was founded, which is still functioning today.
In 1494 Valencia was the city of Spanish trade, proof of which being the building of the Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange). The demographic increase, the influence of Genovese craftsmen, commercialisation mastery, the level of industrialisation and the fashion of silk fabrics were a tremendous driving force in this sector.
In the 18th century the Borbon family set foot in Spain, stimulating the use of silk. The Royal Factory of the Five Greater Guilds of Madrid was established and King Carlos III donated 60,000 reals for the study of silk fabric to be introduced into the San Carlos Fine Arts Academy in Valencia.
The decline of this industry was due to the dispersion of the producers, the competence from Toledo, France and the Americas, the silk tax and the mulberry epidemic, which led to them being substituted for orange trees.
Despite all of this, the silk industry has endured thanks to de mand from the church, traditional Valencian dress, and decorations. Espolín” (thin flowered silk) is the most highly valued silk fabric, due to its continued manufacture by hand using 18th century looms; its name comes from the instrument used for weaving the fabric. In the Higher Art College of Silk there is an antique loom on show that is operational at certain times of the day.
During the Fallas, which are celebrated from 15 to 19 March, it’s possible to see these rich fabrics in the processions, the Ofrenda (traditional offering of flowers) and other acts.
And to round off the Falla experience, immersed in the most artisan neighbourhood in Valencia, we recommend that you visit the Comunidad Valenciana Centre of Arts and Crafts, just behind the Higher Art College of Silk where, in addition to finding out about traditional handmade products, you’ll be able to create your own ninot (falla doll) in a very interesting falla workshop, paint it and take it away as a souvenir.
Consult our recommended map HERE.
Higher Art College of Silk
Comunidad Valenciana Centre of Arts and Crafts