Algarvean pottery lives on in southern mainland Portugal thanks to some artisans in the late 1960s, Patrick Swift, Lima de Freitas, and Gregorio Rodrigues, who revived the centuries old traditional art. If you visit the Algarve you will find an area where the past and present of this lovely art form collide.
The technique dates back to the 15th century, having been introduced to the region by the Arab world. They brought dry-string tiles of a single colour designed in geometric patterns and placed on the walls and floors (Mera vista have an interesting article with information on Portuguese tiled houses). The Portuguese adopted this technique. Derived from Arabic, it was called Azulejo, meaning polished stone.
In the 1600s more colour was added when a type of polychrome tin-glazed tile was developed. The end of the 17th century and into the 18th century was known as the ‘Golden Age of the Azulejo’ as the tile was in its peak demand, not only in Portugal, but also in its South American colony of Brazil.
But after this spike its popularity died down for a few hundred years until Swift, de Freitas, and Rodrigues picked up the work again. Their original workshop, Porches Pottery, was developed in an old 17th century farmhouse in the town of Porches. Later, a larger facility was built, where artisans continue the tradition and work today, managed by the Swift family. The tin-glazing process continues, where fired earthenware is dipped into a tin-based glaze providing a bright, white base where loud-coloured decoration is later applied.
You cannot travel or holiday in the region without being enticed by the vast souvenir trade in Algarvean pottery, including vases, dishes, and various pots. But it is also popular with native residents of the country, who use the brightly coloured and even whimsical pieces in their everyday life, from the kitchen to the bathroom, and indoors and out. Contemporary styles of the art also flourish, with entire walls of homes, shops, and other businesses being covered with tiles blending in with those from yesteryear.
There is more here than dishes, however, with holiday property available to buy in this popular holiday region of Europe. Some are completely furnished, others only modestly so, with room to add your own Algarvean pottery pieces. Prices can vary a lot depending upon location and size. The beaches are exquisite, with gorgeous views. The market places are always fun to shop and there are a variety of local dining choices, many within walking distances of housing. It’s a great place to frequent for a one-time fling, or on a regular basis while taking in its rich history and allowing a lot of time for relaxation.