The art of papermaking began in China as early as the Chien-ch'u Period. A member of the Imperial Guard and later Privy Councillor, Ts'ai Lun, informed the Emporer in the year 105 A.D. that he had created an alternative to the use of sheepskin parchment, which he had made from the fibers of the mulberry tree along with hemp, other plants and rags. The substance which became known as paper was much cheaper than parchment, and quickly came into general use in the Orient.
From the Orient, paper was exported to other regions of the world, including the Middle East. It was in Samarkand, a metropolitan center on the trade route, located in what is present-day Uzbekistan, that the first instance of the production of paper outside of China occurred. The technique was obtained from Chinese prisoners of war. From Samarkand, the knowledge of the craft of papermaking spread southwestward to the Mesopotamian city of Baghdad. Paper was first made in Baghdad as early as 793 A.D. By the year 800, paper produced in Baghdad and Samarkand was being used in Egypt and throughout the Arabian Peninsula. By the time another century had passed, paper was also being produced in Egypt. By the year 1100, the knowledge of papermaking was introduced by the Egyptians to Morocco.
It is believed that the art of papermaking, and coincidently, of the concept of watermarks, spread from the Arabs to Europe by three routes: 1.) The Arab occupation of Sicily in the mid-Thirteenth Century led to the introduction of papermaking into Italy (e.g. the earliest mention of paper being produced there was at the town of Fabriano circa 1276); 2.) The Moors brought the art to the Iberian Peninsula as early as the 1100s (e.g. paper was being produced in the Spanish city of Xativa in 1150); and 3.) During the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, men returning from the Crusades in the Holy Land brought the art of papermaking to the European countries from which they had been recruited for the Crusades.
Irregardless of the route, papermaking was quickly embraced by the people of the southern European region (i.e. northern Italy to southern France and northern Spain) primarily for religious reasons. Europe, during the so-called Medieval period, was undergoing the initial stages of religious reformation. The pre-Reformation sects of the Albigenses in northern Spain and southern France, the Waldenses of Switzerland, and the Cathari and Patarini of northern Italy flourished almost exclusively in the artisan classes. They found papermaking to be the key to gaining more followers because they could print books more inexpensively on paper than on the previously employed mediums of vellum and parchment. And so for that reason, the region of southern Europe became, and would continue to be recognized as, the 'cradle of papermaking'. (The religious sect of the Patarini, i.e. the ragsellers, in fact derived their name from the fact that they operated the rag market for the purchase of rags with which to make paper.)