Caldas da Rainha is a Thermal City, founded at the end of the 15th century by Queen D. Leonor, wife of King D. João II, the center of a region and the seat of a county that holds a valuable historical and cultural heritage. Its sulphurous waters are renowned since ancient times, as the Romans already used them as witnessed by archaeological documents.
The municipality of Caldas da Rainha owes its history and name to Queen D. Leonor, who was traveling from the village of Óbidos to Batalha when she saw a group of humble people bathing in muddy and hot water. He ordered the carriage to stop and wanted to know what that meant. They were treatments, they told him. Those waters were miraculous: they calmed pain, healed wounds. There were even cases of paralytics who walked again as if by miracle. The Queen, who was then suffering from a chest ulcer that had no way of closing, wanted to do the experiment and saw that everything she had been told was true: she was cured in a few days. In view of this event, the Queen ordered a building for therapeutic purposes to be built there – the Thermal Hospital.
The richness of its architectural heritage, the beauty of the beaches and the typical gastronomy and sweets are some of its attractions. The typical pottery of Caldas, which reached its artistic and commercial peak with the works of Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, is characterized by the popular theme where Zé Povinho stands out. Also noteworthy are the sets inspired by cabbage leaves and the “other” typical dishes, inspired by phallic motifs.
In gastronomy, due to the influence of conventual culture, bundles, egg lampreys and famous cakes are references to the wealth, uniqueness and cultural identity of the city.
The first traces of ceramics production in Caldas da Rainha date back to the 19th century, although this activity was carried out in small family-run industrial units.
In turn, it is plausible that the construction of the Thermal Hospital and the Convent of the Madre Deus has emerged the need to supply several containers and glazed containers with notoriety for green glaze.
The ceramic activity in the region has historically had an extraordinary development and its expansion from soils rich in clay, having started the first phase of ceramics of Caldas da Rainha, in the 1820s, with the production of Maria dos Cacos, characterized by the green-monochrome copper or manganese brown of utilitarian (functionalist) pieces of popular taste. A second moment is marked, in the middle of the century, by the renovation introduced by Manuel Cipriano Gomes Mafra, later led to its peak by the talented caricaturist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro and his disciples, such as Francisco Elias, and other contemporaries such as José Alves Cunha, José Francisco de Sousa, Francisco Gomes de Avelar, among others.
The pieces produced since then are characterized by the profusion of formal models, as well as by a diversified approach to decorative themes. The main types of the so-called “dishware of Caldas” are utilitarian dishes, consisting of kitchenware, presented in two different approaches: the contemporary, with simple lines and design, for daily use and the naturalist, representing cabbage leaves, lettuce, fish, fruit, sausages, among other objects that combine the decorative with the utility.
The cartoon crockery originally had professions (priests, fishermen, farmers) stereotyped in a sarcastic and derogatory way. Currently, the figures represent politicians or celebrities, although the most popular traditionally is undoubtedly that of Zé Povinho. This character, created by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro for “A Lanterna Mágica”, has stood out since its creation as a stereotype, being used as a symbol of Portugal and the Portuguese people.
It is evident that from the 19th century onwards in Caldas da Rainha there is an immense profusion of information and material testimonies, ranging from potters such as Maria dos Cacos, to Manuel Mafra, Eduardo Mafra Elias, Francisco Gomes de Avelar, José Alves Cunha, Francisco Elias, Avelino Soares Belo, Visconde de Sacavém (José), until Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro from 1884 and his son Manuel Gustavo at the beginning of the 20th century.
During this period, the ceramics of Caldas da Rainha are arriving a little everywhere, appreciated inside and outside the country. Determining factors for the prestige of this particular pottery were the development of thermal spa in Caldas, its presence in international exhibitions at the time, as well as its appreciation by the Portuguese court.
Another golden period followed in the second half of the 20th century with the creation of SECLA and the group of ceramists who joined the Studio with the same name: there they scored Hansi Staël, Thomaz de Mello (Tom), José Aurélio, António Quadros, Júlio Pomar, Alice Jorge, Ferreira da Silva, José Santa-Bárbara, Jorge Vieira, Maria Antónia Paramos, Miria Toivola Câmara Leme, Ian Hird and Herculano Elias, in addition to the factory owners and also creators, Pinto Ribeiro and Ponte e Sousa.
In the current industrial panorama of Caldas da Rainha currently stand out the Faianças Artísticas Bordallo Pinheiro, Molde, Olfaire and Braz Gil Studio.
The artistic panorama has some potters who individually develop their work, maintaining the ceramic tradition of the city, such as Ana Sobral, Bolota, Vítor Reis, Carlos Enxuto, Mário Reis, Carlos Oliveira, Paula Violante, as well as many others who recently started this production, some more connected to the traditional, others more daring and innovative, always based on the art of working with clay.
Recently, the project Caldas da Rainha Cidade Cerâmica aimed to promote knowledge and the external repercussion of activities focused on ceramics in Caldas da Rainha and the surrounding region. The program values the multiple aspects of ceramic activity in a city that has been developing it since its origin, more than five centuries ago. All domains of ceramics here have been and continue to be cultivated – from utilitarian to decorative and artistic ceramics, from construction ceramics to cladding and tableware, from pottery to faience, stoneware and porcelain. All types of manufacturing here were and continue to be carried out: from industry to small artisanal production and the author’s piece.
Since 2016, the project resulted in a biennial program of international exhibitions, with a fixed structure, generically referred as MOLDA, also including conferences, workshops, editions, mapping projects, study and revitalization of creative structures.
The program recognizes and projects Caldas da Rainha as a particularly qualified production center for fixing, disseminating, experimenting, learning ceramics, nationally and internationally.
The accumulated experience and achievements led to the presentation of the application of Caldas da Rainha to the title of creative city recognized by UNESCO, having been approved on October 30, 2019, the adhesion to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network: Caldas da Rainha – Creative City of Crafts and Popular Arts.
Fernando Manuel Tinta Ferreira
Mayor of Caldas da Rainha
Caldas da Rainha is a Thermal City with more than fifty thousand inhabitants belonging to the district of Leiria and located in the West of Portugal. Founded at the end of the 15th century by Queen Leonor, the city is the centre of a region and the seat of a municipality with a vast historical and cultural heritage, particularly in the ceramics field.
With a vibrant creative community, where craftsmen, artists and designers, but also ateliers and industrial units make ceramics their way of life, Caldas da Rainha was recognised 2019, as a Unesco Creative City.
Detaining a solid infrastructure in the field of cultural equipment, namely in the museological area and a wide range of institutional partners, with emphasis on the School of Arts and Design. Caldas da Rainha seeks to be worthy of its historical legacy, projecting a future based on creativity, knowledge and sustainability.
Fernando Manuel Tinta Ferreira
Mayor of Caldas da Rainha