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Impruneta terracotta

From the January 2017 issue.
Impruneta terracotta

In a small Tuscan town, precious local soils gave rise to a centuries-old craft. Today, some local artisans pay homage to the past, while others embrace new and innovative uses for Impruneta’s most famous export.

By Danielle Gullaci

Just south of Florence and not far from the famous Chianti wine district, is the small town of Impruneta, which has been famous for its terracotta production for centuries. The craft has been an important part of the local economy since as early as the 11th century and continued to flourish right through the Middle Ages.

By 1308, a corporation had already been formed to protect and regulate the production of terracotta products to ensure a high level of quality was maintained – much like the many consortiums of today tasked with safeguarding treasured local food and wines, which typically bear the DOCG, DOC, DOP or IGP seals of quality.

Terracotta, which basically translates to ‘cooked earth’, is a type of fired clay used for decorative or practical purposes.

And it is the minerals naturally present in Impruneta’s clay that formed the basis for what became the town’s most important local industry. These minerals, combined with the way in which the clay is baked, give Impruneta’s terracotta an incomparable level of strength and durability, believed to be unrivalled anywhere in the world.

Unlike some other types of terracotta, that derived from Impruneta is completely resistant to frost and cold weather, ensuring strength and longevity.

Impruneta’s history as a terracotta hub comes as no surprise when you consider the quality of clay, coupled with an abundance of forest area, which provided the wood that fired the kilns, and its proximity to cities like Florence, Siena and Arezzo, which became core markets for the product. Together, these provided the perfect scenario for Impruneta’s production to thrive.

Impruneta is still laced with terracotta kilns, where artisans craft local clay entirely by hand, before baking it in wood-fired kilns, according to ancient tradition – just as the ancient Romans did many years before them.

While artisan, hand-crafted terracotta products are still big-ticket items in the town of Impruneta, local terracotta is also now being used in an industrial capacity, adopting innovative new technology to produce construction materials such as bricks and cladding.

To read the full story, pick up your copy of the January/February 2017 edition of Italianicious.

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