Marinha Grande is a city in central Portugal, located near the Atlantic Ocean, not far from Nazaré. This beautiful city is known as the Portuguese capital of glass for over 250 years.
Although many factories ceased their activity during the 20th century, the last twenty years have marked the revival of the glass industry. Tableware, glass bottles, vases, tableware and even architectural glass are made in Marinha Grande and make Portuguese glassware an art recognized throughout the world.
From the sand of the river to the glass museum of Marinha Grande, we tell you the history of the artisanal production of glass in Portugal.
The beginnings of an exceptional Portuguese craft.
The history of the fame of the city of Marinha Grande begins in 1769, when Guilherme Stephens, an Englishman who emigrated to Portugal, decided to acquire the city's glass factory.
Guilherme Stephens - Credit Regiaodeleiria
With the support of the Marquis of Pombal, Guilherme Stephens invested in the factory and expanded it massively. Indeed, Portugal was at that time in full reconstruction following the great earthquake of 1755 and the country needed to make up economically for the losses related to this tragedy.
Guilherme Stephens factory, end of 19th century
During 15 years, the glass factory in Marinha Grande expands and takes an important place as a European glass producer. Stephens creates a real center of glassmaking know-how.
Guilherme Stephens factory - Credit Diário de Noticias
He sent his best master craftsmen to England to study new techniques, hired many workers and opened a school near the factory. The Portuguese glass craft is formed.
After the death of Guilherme Stephens and his brother João Diogo Stephens, who succeeded him until 1826, the factory was nationalized, at the posthumous request of the two brothers.
Many other glass factories opened in the Marinha Grande area and the city became famous for this art and its many master glassmakers.
The processes of the Portuguese glass craft.
The region of Marinha Grande was not chosen by chance to become the cradle of glass in Portugal. Indeed, between the coastline and the surrounding rivers, the city has several sources of high quality sand.
In addition, the huge pine forest planted by the kings Dom Afonso III and Dom Dinis in the 13th century, in order to prevent soil erosion, makes it an abundant source of wood.
These two characteristics make Marinha Grande an exceptional site for glass production.
Marinha Grande Pine forest - Credit All about Portugal
Sand washed of iron salts is the main ingredient in the glassmaking process. It is mixed with other minerals, such as silica, as well as with scraps from previous productions.
The mixture is heated to a temperature close to 1500°C in the furnace that distributes the different casting stations. The glass is then poured into a mold. Still glowing, it is put back into a furnace to be fired again for several hours, before being slowly cooled.
In the production of blown glass, or even mouth-blown glass, the know-how is even different and requires a unique technique.
Credit Museu do vidro da Marinha Grande
The master glassmaker swirls his molten glass at the end of a metal cane. He then works the material until he obtains the desired shape, by blowing or incorporating air inside the glass ball. This ancestral technique is unique and has been passed down for generations in Portugal.
Blown glass vase from Marinha Grande - Luisa Paixão collection
The fused glass technique consists of assembling several glass plates of different colors and then bringing them to their melting point to obtain a single homogeneous piece.
This delicate technique requires a very good control of the furnace temperatures as well as a lot of patience. The glass loses its consistency at 455° and the different plates fuse at 800°. This melting operation requires 24 hours and is followed by several successive firing sessions.
Fused glass dish from Marinha Grande - Luisa Paixão collection
Glass in Portuguese culture.
The history of Marinha Grande undoubtedly explains the place of glass in the Portuguese culture. Indeed, the Portuguese decoration is impregnated with this craft. Glass is found in all its forms: blown glass, fused glass and handmade glass.
Fused glass salad bowl from Marinha Grande - Luisa Paixão collection
A true everyday art object, Portuguese glass is above all unique and breathtaking. Indeed, Portuguese glassmakers stand out for the originality of their productions.
Fused glass vase from Marinha Grande - Luisa Paixão collection
In the early 2000s, the Portuguese glass industry joined the world of design and interior decoration.
Fused glass jewel from Marinha Grande - Luisa Paixão collection
That's why today, typical Portuguese glass creations can be recognized from afar: original shapes, shimmering colors or diverted objects, to decorate your home with taste and character.
Fused glass plates from Marinha Grande - Luisa Paixão collection
There are, for example, blown glass vases with eccentric shapes, colorful tableware, but also decorative objects to display in the house, such as fused glass boxes and even fancy glass jewelry.
Objects of fused glass from Marinha Grande - Luisa Paixão collection
Marinha Grande Glass Museum.
The history of Marinha Grande is deeply linked to the development of the glass industry, mostly by the hand of Guilherme Stephens.
The old house of Guilherme Stephens, located in the perimeter of the factory, as well as several glass workshops, recreational facilities, theater, schools and private gardens became state property after the death of João Diogo Stephens and the idea of creating a museum was born with the decree of 1954.
Guilherme Stephens museum, Marinha Grande
In 1994, the architectural project was entrusted to José Fava and the museum opened its doors in 1998 presenting the history of the evolution of glass and the technological aspects of glass production.