archive / reportage / info




paper mill / Cairate - Lonate Ceppino / 1881 - 1877 / 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011


Vita Mayer is the most impressive former industrial site of the Olona valley, an historical sub-region of western Lombardy known for its ancient industrialization. In particular, paper manufacturing developed already during the 18th century thanks to the presence of several watermills. A couple of them, located between the villages of Cairate (1744) and Lonate Ceppino (1772), evolved into modern paper mills in the 1850s. The first one, known as Cartiera Canziani, was taken over by the Jewish entrepreneur Enrico Vita in 1891 and immediately expanded over the second, nearby mill. At the turn of the century Matilde Vita, Enrico's granddaughter, married Salomone (Sally) Mayer, the representative of a renowned family of Jewish entrepreneurs. The well-chosen partnership between the families reflected positively on the rising paper manufacturing site, which was then renamed Cartiera Vita Mayer. In 1904 a second event fostered the growth of the activity: the construction of the Italian-Swiss railway line Castellanza-Mendrisio, which run right next to the factory. In 1908 the paper mill manufactured 6000 t of paper and employed 440 people.



A major update occurred during the 1930s with the construction, amongs other things, of a kraft pulp plant (8000 t/y, completed in 1937). In the same period Sally Mayer provided the centers of Cairate and Lonate with social housing, churches and even a professional school. Unfortunately, due to the emission of fascist restrictions agains Jewish people the Mayers' were forced to leave the country, moving to Switzerland. The paper complex was taken over by the government and classified as 'A' industry, i.e. strictly necessary for national defense. Sally Mayer and his family returned to the command already in april 1945, with a grand renovation plan to develop. This started in 1949 with the construction of a large power station equipped with a tall hillside-flue chimney, and proceeded during the whole decade with the installation of second paper mill, separate from the existing one by a vast, highly-mechanized timber yard. To ensure enough power to both complexes, a second power station was erected within the older mill - one of the first in Italy to have a so-called suspended boiler. In 1960 the enormous paper manufacturing complex, stretching along the Olona river for 2,5 km, employed more than 3000 people and produced 80000 t of paper per year. The first signals of crisis emerged in 1971, due to the rising competition with eastern Europe producers and the technical weaknesses of the plant (the location first). The company asked for a state intervention to avoid the failure, without significant results. In addition, between 1975 and 1976 two river floods devastated the older mill. The deathblow was given by the closure of the railway line for unprofitability. On august 11th, 1977 both mills were definitively closed.

Abandoned since more than thirty years, Vita Mayer represents today an outstanding example of paper manufacturing site, being also one of the few "modern" industrial plant within the Olona valley. While waiting for a renovation that probably will never come the factory slowly surrenders to nature, gaining fascination.

















Cartiera di Cairate / site redevelopment project (promotional website)