BeanScene Magazine

Grottaglie pottery

From the June 2014 issue.
Grottaglie pottery

In the heel of Italy’s boot is a pretty town called Grottaglie where the art of pottery has endured since centuries gone by. To this day, pottery continues to form a vital part of the area’s history and culture.

Despite the town not being very well known outside of Italy, Grottaglie’s pottery and pottery workshops continue to draw people in from near and far.

‘The town of pottery’ is located in the Taranto province of the Southern Italian region of Puglia. It lies on the Salento peninsula, which is effectively a large limestone rock that divides the Adriatic and Ionian seas. It is situated about 20 kilometres from the city of Taranto and 48 kilometres from the city of Brindisi and is surrounded by many olive groves and vineyards.

Grottaglie is very rich in clay soil, which is used to make its pottery and is also credited with prompting the beginning of its production in the town hundreds of years ago.

In the past, it was possible to find countless pieces of pottery in each Grottaglie home. Back then, these items weren’t used solely for decoration – as is often the case today – each item had its own distinct purpose. For example, ceramic vessels could be used to store, preserve and transport things like wines and oils.

During the 17th century, Grottaglie’s clay was used mainly to produce roof and floor tiles. With the introduction of new production techniques in the 18th century, the focus of many local artisans shifted towards creating higher end items such as tableware, amphorae and figurines.

Artisans also began to experiment with colours like yellow, green and blue – which until then hadn’t been used in Grottaglie’s pottery production. 

As they learned about the benefits of glazing, pottery items became more durable, more beautiful, and the colours more vivid and long-lasting – and as such, Grottaglie’s pottery became very highly sought after. Dozens of pottery workshops began popping up in the town. By the 18th century, the town already boasted 42 potteries and around 5000 pottery producers.

In Grottaglie, pottery is an art form that is still widely practised, with products still made by hand. Today much of the town’s pottery production is dedicated to tableware, amphorae and decorative pieces – including human figurines; pumo, a word derived from the Puglian dialect for flower bud; and pigne, meaning pine cones. Made in many bold colours, pumi and pigne can often be seen adorning balconies and terraces throughout Grottaglie.

When visiting the town, a good place to start is the Quartiere delle Ceramiche – the Ceramics Quarter – which is dotted with many pottery workshops. Here it is possible to see many artisans at work.

To read the full story, pick up your copy of the May/June 2014 issue.

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