Coimbra traditional ceramics
Coimbra ceramics have existed since the 16th century and include ceramics that traditionally use cobalt blue in monochrome tones but also yellow, green and ochre. This art, typical of this city in Northern Portugal, has been recognized throughout the world for several centuries.
★ Coimbra, a city favorable to the emergence of ceramics
It is near the banks of the Mondego, close to the clay soils, that the first earthenware factories were set up and then gathered around the "Bota Baixo" square. The main factories of this period are called "Rua dos Oleiros", "Rua da Louça" and "Largo das Olarias". They still remain in the current city toponym.
The proximity of the Mondego River enabled not only to provide the raw material which is clay, but also to set a communication route towards the port of Figueira da Foz what made easier the shipping and selling of the ceramic pieces.
★ In the 16th century, the "Malegueiros" bring out Coimbra ceramics
In the 16th century, the "Malegueiros", so-called because they were native of the city of Malaga in Spain, were the first artists to introduce the ceramic technique in the Coimbra region.
At that time, to become a ceramist it was necessary to pass an examination and succeed in a practical test which was the de-moulding of the dishes after the first firing. Thereafter, the official letter delivered by the "judges of the Office" granted the privilege of being able to manufacture and sell the first ceramics of Coimbra while respecting a regulation concerning the profession but also the working and manufacturing conditions.
★ The apogee of Coimbra ceramics in the 17th century
Armed with their privilege, the Malegoiros quickly amassed fortunes and acquired titles of nobility. The city council had to react by imposing a work permit, a contribution to city events and a waiver of their privileges. As a consequence, this activity has spread to the working class even though several families have continued to dominate the local ceramic industry: Costa Brioso, Paiva, Vandelli and Oliveira are among the best known families.
At that time, Domenico Vandelli, founder of the Rossio factory in Santa Clara in 1784, was renowned for producing the finest and most elegant tableware in Coimbra.
In 1886, 11 ceramic factories were working in Coimbra, but with the arrival of the French Invasions and competition from English ceramics, the production of earthenware decreased.
★ The decline in the 19th and 20th centuries
During the 20th century, Coimbra ceramics was industrialized on a large scale, with the ESTACO factory in particular, which had more than 1,000 employees and a production unit in Mozambique. But like the entire ceramics sector, this factory declined and was declared bankrupt in 2001. Today, Pedrulha's huge industrial park of more than 60,000 m2 is nothing more than an industrial wasteland with missing roofs, broken walls and broken windows.
★ The revival of artisanal ceramics
Coimbra ceramics remain very present in the collective imagination and arouses attachment, respect and curiosity. Very rare now, pieces of 16th, 17th and 18th centuries are part of private collections and are in great demand at auctions.
This is an opportunity for some talented craftsmen to rediscover the ancestral manufacturing processes and to produce again the historical pieces of Coimbra ceramics.