Beach blanket, Mezzaro or a Palampore? Mezzaro (mezzari/mezzara from the Arabic word “to cover”) are sometimes confused with palampores because of the similarities. In the 16th century the spice trade brought palampores and other textiles from India to the Genoa port and no surprise the block printed textiles were an instant success. The palampores were used for curtains, wall hangings, and yes…beach towels and blankets.
The Genoans in the Polcevera valley began printing their own versions of the palampores about the 1690s. The Polcevera River was vital in the production of the mezzaro and the textiles could be seen in various stages of production drying on the riverbanks. Some of the intricate designs used as many as 80 different wood blocks to create the pictorial scene in the center. The mezzaro (still available for purchase today in Italy) became popular as large shawls which completely covered the woman from head to toe. (Yes, it really was used as a beach coverup or blanket.)
So how can you tell the difference between the mezzaro and Palampore? Both are large textiles without seams, and many have the tree of life design. Typically the mezzaro is square (although not always) and can be one piece of fabric as large as 110 x 110. Palampores are typically rectangular can be hand painted or block printed, but the mezzaro’s are usually block printed. The mezzaros also have a maker’s mark on the edge of the shawl, such as Gio Bagga de Giorgiis or the Speich Brothers. So yes, I would love to have my own mezzaro, but I would never use it as a beach blanket.