the old wool art and the Paratore mill

Among the many traditions we have had in Sicily, there is one that not everyone knows, namely wool processing. Between “sodatura” and “fulling” we will tell you about it

The presence of watermills, paratories and stairwells in the Eleuterio Valley between the XII-XV centuries confirms the early hydraulic technology of Sicily and a relative capillary exploitation of the territory in question. The geographical duration of these ingenious examples of industrial archeology in today’s landscape is still full of charm and history.

In the municipality Misilmeriin the Risalaimi area, are present the old mill “Paratore” which is located on the right side of the river between the Cozzi mills and the Ponte della Fabbrica, which acts as a penstock with water taken directly from the Eleutherium.

The same name of the plant, “Paratore”, used exclusively and locally for Sicily, introduces an idiomatic expression expressing the function of these factories, that of “parari” in the sense of carrying out all the processes necessary to achieve “orbace” or abbrasciu, the degreased wool cloth has become clear and clean.

Elsewhere, these plants are referred to as fuller or fuller. Already in Roman times there was a small industry, which in special workshops called fullonicae took care of the filling operation. The woven pieces were soaked in large tubs filled with water and beaten with the feet, rubbed and pies with the hands of the “fillers”warm water with the addition of smectic clay, combined with the energetic action of the feet, felted the wool.

It is clear that everything that was done manually and laboriously in Roman times was replaced in the 11th century by a machine powered by water, called a filling mill. It was a new application of the hydraulic energy produced by the mills that processed the wool, with the difference that the wheel, instead of horizontal usually in Sicilian mills used for grinding grain, had to be arranged vertically relative to the water. It seems that the first functioning filling mill in Italy was built in 962 in Abruzzo and together with the water mill it helped to bring to life what historians call the “industrial revolution” of the Middle Ages.

The etymology of the concept it is probably of French origin “gauchier” or Germanic “walkan”, both cases the term denotes a car that turns. The manufacturing process, mostly of wool, is not very different from that of fullonicae, with the clear difference that human labor is replaced by the work of hammers, or large wooden hammers pushed by a (more often vertically) driven wheel from a stream. . The hydraulic wheel caused a camshaft to rotate about itself, the fins of which created an alternating motion with two hammers.

The hammers pressed alternately and continuously in an oak vessel called a pile, the substance soaked in a solution of boiling water, soap, lye, fermented urine that had produced urea and a clay that was an aluminum silicate hydrated with degreasing properties.

This operation had one duration of about three hours and it was called sodatura or fulling and acted on the inner structure of the fabric as it caused felting of the fibers which retracted and tightened to each other making the fabric more compact, soft, resistant and partially waterproof.

At the end of the operation, the pile was unloaded and the fabric washed with cold water and wrung out. This raw woolen fabric that eventually came out was called orbace, from the Arabic to “bazz”, meaning cloth, cloth, characterized by the irregularity of the yarn and was widely produced in the mountainous areas of Sicily and Sardinia, by which these was created popular hoods (in Sicilian cappullaru), usually in a dark color, used in the cold months by bordoners and shepherds, but also by clergy and nobles, with a fur collar or with silver bushes, depending on the occasion and the economic possibilities of the respective owners.

Four or five generations have passed since the last dates, coinciding with the middle of the last century, when the “Paratore” mill in Risalaimi existed and functioned, enough to give all the testimony or oral memory of the wooden machinery that made full of the cloths.

Its construction was already attested in 1637, when the county of Risalaimi was sold by Francesco Ferrero, donated by Girolama, to Giovanna Ferrero Arrighetti and put into deputation in 1655, going under the administration of the court in 1702 after the death of Eleonora Ferrero, Baroness of Pettineo, widow of Marco Mancini, third Marquis of Ogliastro. It is the only one of the mills in the Eleuterio Valley that has a two-barrel conformation and a double-acting function (grinding of the grain and filling).

The prizes corresponding to the two torrifications branch off from the same main channel. At present, there are no traces revealing the presence of another grinder to which the western barrel was enslaved, suggesting that it was in use by the filling machine. Structural interventions have recently been carried out to use the mill as a private residence, and the milling machine remains a lifting splitter, an intact grinding wheel and various pieces of grinding wheel exhibited in the garden. The more modern adduction channel has four large support arches that are still clearly visible today in imitation of the Roman aqueducts.

As long as it remained in operation, the filling station for the “Paratore” mill in Risalaimi was the only one available and in use by the inhabitants of the area of ​​Misilmeri, Marineo, Ficarazzi, Godrano and Ogliastro, which also proves a territory of great agricultural value, but also and above all industrial. Sounds, harmonies and gestures are repeated cyclically over the seasons and the work that Giosuè Carducci mentions in his poetic work in “the song of love”, where the noise from the finishing mill resonates:
“Pe ‘cabins in the smoky happy sun
Between the cries of the mills and the fillers,
A song occurs in only a thousand songs,
A hymn in the voice of the thousand prayers […]”

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