The art of black pottery has a unique expression in the North of Portugal, distributed along the Verin-Penacova geological fault axis. The clay extracted in this basin enabled the development of quality pottery that was distinct from other regions, particularly due to the black color of its pieces. Among the different pottery centers in the Douro Valley area of influence, those in the municipality of Vila Real, between the villages of Mondrões, Vila Marim, Parada de Cunhos and Lordelo, whose production was sold in the neighboring municipalities up to the Tua River, have a particular importance.
The pottery tradition in this territory dates to the Middle Ages, being documented in the charter of honor of Lordelo, given by King Manuel I, in 1519. This document imposes the payment of a monthly fee of four and a half “reais” a year to potters, the same as they paid half-couple owners. This was an exception among the inhabitants of that place, which, at that time, attested to the importance of these craftsmen within the community.
This pottery tradition has persisted to the present day only in the village of Bisalhães, where ancestral techniques and know-how of working and baking clay are still maintained, and were distinguished by UNESCO since 2016, as Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In the current production, the use of the low wheel, unique in Europe, stands out, as well as the decorative motifs developed by female hands and, above all, the cooking process, also a prevalence of ancestral and very rudimentary techniques.
As a heritage, this is an art created and recreated by its community. Each artisan and their families are part of an important process of cultural preservation, which is increasingly urgent, given the advanced age of most artisans. The maintenance of art and its transmission is the greatest form of safeguard, along with its cultural valorization, inside and outside the community.
With the adhesion of the Municipality of Vila Real to the Associação Portuguesa das Cidades e Vilas da Cerâmica (APTCVC), it is intended to take another important step in this direction, with the dissemination and promotion of this ancestral art, not only at the national level but mainly at the international level, taking advantage of Portugal’s presence, through APTCVC, in the European Grouping of Ceramic Cities. Another great advantage of being part of APTCVC is allowing the development and participation in network activities, working closely with other national and European cities, giving more visibility to the pottery of Bisalhães.
Mayor of Vila Real
VILA REAL, LAND OF BLACK POTTERY OF BISALHÃES
The Black Pottery of Bisalhães, despite being an ancestral art, remains alive in the memory of the people from Vila Real, being part of their living (individual and collective).
Bisalhães, known as the land of Black Pottery, belongs to the parish of Mondrões, in the municipality of Vila Real. In 2016, the Bisalhães Black Pottery Manufacturing Process was classified by UNESCO on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, thus achieving worldwide recognition of the uniqueness of this ancestral art.
The oldest record of a potter working in this village dates back to 1709. This is a manufacturing process that practically maintains the techniques that go back to its origins, with few but necessary changes. Unique and singular, it is hard work and a family craft, passing from generation to generation. Both men and women accompany the process from start to finish, each fulfilling their respective role.
In the complex cooking process, which gives the characteristic black color to the Bisalhães pottery, the whole family gets together and works with joy, for about 6 hours, so that nothing fails in achieving its unique identity. Everything culminates with the sale of the crockery, the most traditional pieces being the Bilha de Rosca, the Bilha do Segredo, the Pucarinhos, the Alguidar, the Assadeira and the Pichorra.
Keeping this ancestral art alive will mean recovering the past, naturally, but also conquering the future, making this craft more appealing. For this reason, it is essential to promote a healthy articulation between artisans, new designers, and consumers, because, only in this way, a possible way to safeguard this art can be envisioned, which no longer belongs only to the people of Bisalhães, but to the world, to all Humanity!
Being part of the Associação Portuguesa de Cidades e Vilas Cerâmicas will certainly be a way of enhancing our pottery, namely through networking, whether national or transnational, which will give greater visibility and affirmation to this art, which constitutes our greatest purpose.
Mayor of Vila Real