The history of ceramics in Spain is a long one, though things picked up during the Moorish occupation of southern Spain, and then really got going in the 15th century once Chinese ceramics, a.k.a. porcelain china, became popular and local artisans sought to import the technique into their own practices. Here in Valencia the tradition continues on, particularly in Manises and Paterna, where there is still a guild ("gremio") of Valencian ceramic makers and factories which reproduce the traditional ceramic production methods for making tiles, plates, and other decorative objects that appeared over the course of the 15th through 19th centuries. Here I would place these traditions into three categories of gift items.
|An example of the kind of ceramic tile plaques|
one can find all over Valencia and its regional towns.
So one really lovely gift you can buy are ceramic tiles, following this tradition, which are mounted on wooden frames or adorn mirrors and other decorative displays. These traditional-style tiles tend to come in one of three modes. The oldest, based on a 15th century medieval style of production, is known here by its Catalan name "socarrat". The word socarrat, which literally means burnt, is also used to describe the (delicious) burnt rice at the bottom of the paella pan. (In other words, this is a _very_ Valencian word to know!) The socarrat is a red and black tile, red from oxidize iron and black from manganese, which is made by hand painting the tile and then super heating, baking it in an oven until the design is burnt into the clay ("arcilla"), thus the name. For more on the process, in Spanish, click here.
The other two traditional styles are the "gótico azul" (blue tiles) from Manises and "verde y morado" (green tiles) traditionally from Paterna. You can find images of ships, medieval trades, animals, kings and queens, dragons, or artistic geometric patterns.
• Decorative plates:
Ceramic plates can also make for a great gift and collector's item. (For European tourists, this could be an excellent local artisan item to build a collection around, as there are great ceramic traditions in Denmark (e.g. Royal Copenhagen) or in Italy, we got an artisanal plate in Sardegna with the classic "pavoncella" bird emblem of the island... just to name a few examples of local iconography and styles one can encounter. In Spain, there are many regions with local workshops who maintain their regional tradition and styles of producing ceramic plates. I have only limited knowledge of this, but I can tell you that once again Manises and Paterna have been historically important centers of innovation in this area. One particularly beautiful traditional style is this golden ornate plate from Manises. (To learn more about them, visit Valencia's Museo de la Cerámica, mentioned below)
• Other decorative items:
And if you are already in a shop buying socarrats and ceramic plates, then you can also look for decorative "pilas" (water basin for holy water or "agua bendita"), to hang on your wall, not to mention artisanal bowls, "cántaros" (jars or jugs), and so on. You'll find them emulating old and new styles, and in sets that can help brighten up a kitchen or mounted so as to add an accent to your office or living space.
|A ceramic decorative holy water basin, the classic Spanish home decoration|
|Bowls, jars, plates, mounted tiles, mirrors, and many more beautiful, inexpensive gifts|
made from Valencian ceramics that you can find at Artesanía Yuste
|Yuste carries all three styles of socarrat and a variety of traditional images, |
already mounted on wooden frames as seen here.
|If you call them, you can also ask to have tiles specially mounted however you want,|
since they work directly with the producers in Manises and Paterna.
|Despite its convenient location, it can be tricky finding Artesanía Yuste. Look for this|
passageway ("Passatge de Giner") leading west off the Plaza de la Reina in Valencia.
Ceramics and textiles continue to be important in Spain, today, and particularly for the region along the coast between Valencia and Castellón/Tarragona, particularly around Benicarló. The region has grown rich from small scale, industrial production of these textile materials put to a variety of humble, but functionally important uses. However, Lladró, founded by brothers from the Valencian town Almàssera, has eclipsed these humble origins, and achieved an international renown. They specialize in
|One of Lladró's more contemporary girls.|
|Lladró's 1950s 'Valencia Girl' figurine|
Museo Nacional de Cerámica y Artes Suntuarias, located in the impressive baroque palace of the Marqués de dos Aguas in Valencia's city center, 2) the town of Manises, located just outside to the west of Valencia (better known for being the location of the airport) has a Museu de Ceràmica which explains the production techniques, and 3) Lladró has a museum, "City of Porcelain," in Tavernes Blanques just to the north of Valencia (right next to Alboraia).
|The amazing baroque palace of the Marqués de Dos Aguas, |
which houses the Museo Nacional de Cerámica in Valencia
|I personally love the Valencia ceramic museum's cuina, "typical Valencian kitchen," display shown here|
Postscript: Please note that I have had to leave out entirely a discussion of pottery (alfarería), which, though related in some respects, has its own long history and tradition throughout Spain, but would also make for wonderful gifts and collectors items. I'll make a note of this for an entry next year around Xmas time!