Barcelos is a Portuguese city located in the district of Braga, subdivided in 61 (sixty-one) parishes.
Widely recognized as an important employing council in the manufacturing industry. It is a textile pole of excellence that absorbs almost half of the active population, although footwear, agriculture, ceramics and tourism also play an important role.
The city is known for being the capital of the Portuguese crafts and folk arts. The dynamics of its people is well reflected in the greatness of its handicrafts, with the Rooster of Barcelos, being considered a major national symbol. In addition to handicrafts, the architectural heritage, expressed in monuments such as the Mother Church (13th century) and the Medieval Tower (15th century), are also worth of acknowledgment.
The municipality of Barcelos is a territory with a very strong cultural and ethnological identity mainly due to the diversity of crafts and folk arts, of which, for its importance, stands out the pottery. This is an ancient tradition and as a production it can be traced back to Roman times. The quality of the raw material in the region was also an important factor, guaranteeing a production of excellency. Indeed, the art of working the clay has gained such relevancy over the centuries that it became inseparable from the history, past and present, of this region and its people.
Barcelos crockery, as it is commonly known, is an identitarian attribute that over the centuries spread and disseminated the name of this municipality, promoting employment and supporting hundreds of families that have built their lives around the arts of clay.
Across the country, on weekly markets, on annual markets, on pilgrimages, etc., the name of Barcelos was spread by these simple people who strolled around town squares selling dishes, transporting them on foot or in ox carts, giving a notoriety that grew over times as an identity mark of a community, a territory and a city, to the point that the name Barcelos, can no longer be dissociate from this socioeconomic context.
Imagery, a subsidiary production of pottery, was the name adopted for statuary pieces of popular expression, traditionally produced in the pottery territory of the actual municipality of Barcelos, these imagery creations could be entirely modeled by hand, produced in small molds or they could even be the result of mixed techniques.
What we now acknowledge as “art”, was once a way of survival, so art, for the artisans of Barcelos and their ancestors, was more than a creative act, it was and is a cultural act that passed from generation to generation as heritage and identity. Hence, emerged this production that was meant to be a simple toy and became an identitarian symbol of a region, as the result of the unique ability of local potters to recreate the real, creating an imaginary. These puppets gained such an importance that by the middle of the 20th century, this ceramic production gained relevance with the work of master potters such as Rosa Ramalho, Rosa Côta, Mystério, Maria Sineta, Ana Baraça and many others who made Barcelos Imagery one of the most important productions of Portuguese popular art, extolling the legacy of artists such as Rosalina Pereira, Manuel Valada, Francisco Branco, João Côto and António Côto and many others who made pottery and clay arts, their way of surviving.
The Imagery, in addition to a way of expressing to the world and a way of thinking, feeling, living and evolving of a community, also evidences the way in which the artisans of each era represent the daily life of their time. It was from this production that surfaced the best-known symbol of Portugal and of the municipality of Barcelos – The rooster, also an ambassador of the municipality, revealer of the historical identity of an urban center that since immemorial times is related to the pilgrimage to Compostela.
Imagery and Pottery, due to this specific ethnological and social context, are Certified Productions and Protected by the national certification system. The Certification process of Barcelos Pottery and Imagery was initiated by the Municipality of Barcelos in 2004, with the aim of studying, valuing and protecting these endemic ceramic productions, which marked the local, regional, historical, social and economic context.
It is in the municipality of Barcelos that currently, artisanal potteries are located and continue to produce utilitarian clay, as well as imagery for decorative purposes or for collectors. In the municipal area, black, terracotta and glazed crockery continues to be produced, as well as faience and porcelain. However, going back to the Middle Ages, ceramic production extended along the right bank of the Cávado River, a territory that today covers the current municipalities of Barcelos, Vila Verde and Braga, corresponding to the extinct municipality of Prado. According to written sources, in the 18t century, faience was already produced in Prado. With the administrative reform of 1855, the municipality of Prado was extinguished, and the main parishes where pottery was produced integrated Barcelos. The products were mainly sold in fairs and pilgrimages in the northern territory of country.
According to the Industrial Survey dated of 1890, 101 artisanal potteries operated in Barcelos, designated as small industries, occupying masters, workers and apprentices, most of them operated all year round; only few worked part-time.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the ceramic center of Barcelos had a significant number of artisanal potteries, being considered the largest national production center of popular ceramics, supplying glazed crockery in all markets in the districts of Viana, Braga, Porto, Aveiro and Vila Real. Imagery took part of this tradition.
Nowadays, the municipality of Barcelos is, in North of Portugal, one of the territories with the highest number of artisans, distributed by several artisanal productions such as pottery, imagery, traditional ceramics, among others.
In gross terms, there are many dozens of artisans in practice, distributed by the various local artisanal productions, with a natural preponderance for pottery and imagery, which make Barcelos Municipality a true Living Museum of Portuguese Popular Art and a factor of Barcelos’ identity in Portugal and around the World.
Presently, following almost 20 years of deep crisis, ceramics are once again in expansion, particularly regarding decorative ceramics that are commercialized in the North and Central European markets. There are also very positive signs of recovery in traditional ceramics, with an increasing demand. In general terms, we believe that the picture is positive for regional ceramics due to the increase in exports and the appearance of new market segments in Portugal.
Mário Constantino da Silva Lopes
Mayor of Barcelos
Barcelos is one of the most important pottery production centers in Portugal. The first traces of this activity in the territory date back to Castro culture, which is why, most likely, pottery is a reality with more than 3 thousand years, thus, it is safe to say that the arts of clay shaped and still shape socially, culturally and economically Barcelos territory.
The local pottery identity arose in the context of the production of utilitarian crockery for daily needs. However, these potters with their great creative ingeniousness, never wasted the clay leftovers from the production of utilitarians, instead they used them to make small figurines which would also be trade.
The local pottery tradition became deeply attached to the very traditional Barcelos Market and spread, during the 18th and 19th centuries, to all markets and fairs across the country.
The industrial revolution led to a decline in the production of utilitarian crockery, but Barcelos potters reinvented the production and started to manufacture decorative ceramics. And again using the leftovers of clay they continued to make small figurines.
With each crisis, other challenges, adapting and creating of new concepts, forms and uses. Until the small figurines with the great Rosa Ramalho became big! And like Ramalho others too: Mistério, Côta, Baraças and all others that followed and will follow…
Having arrived here today, Barcelos has two important clay based productions – Pottery and Imagery, both Certified and Protected by the national certification system. And are all these productions, among many others types of Crafts and Folk Arts, that gave us the title we are so proud of: Barcelos, Creative City of UNESCO.
Mário Constantino da Silva Lopes
Mayor of Barcelos
Municipal Councillor Maria Elisa Leite Braga, Barcelos