Grottaglie is in the south of Puglia, just in the middle of the Salento area, one of the most beautiful Italian regions: a landscape of red soiled farmland, ancient white houses, huge olive trees and, everywhere, the blue, clear water of the Mediterranean sea.
The abundance of red clay in the area promoted the production of pottery more than a thousand years ago. Over time an increasing number of ceramicists settled along the Saint George ravine, setting up their studios and kilns in natural caves. This “District of Ceramics” is still intact and absolutely worth a visit!
It all started in the 8th century a.C., when the rich red clay that was so abundant in the area was first used to make the necessary vessels for dayly life.
Pitchers, jars and urn were handmade to carry or store water, wine, oil, vinegar and food supplies. The use of clay vessels was not restricted to food and drink. Clay pots were made in different shapes and sizes to cook or to wash linens, dishes and vegetables, chamber – pots – the essentials – were also made of clay and so were the chimney-pots and the water pipes and the tiles. At the beginning dinnerware and tableware were certainly a minor activity for Grottaglie craftsmen. However they slowly began to improve the esthetics of their artifacts adding colored glazes to their dinner plates, pitchers and serving bowls and creating original designs.
Around the 17th century, the range of tableware expanded and some items became very popular, like the “jugs with the secret” that were particularly intriguing for their ingenious mechanisms that made it almost impossible to pour liquids.
Today Grottaglie craftsmen make by hand mostly dinnerware and decorative ceramics, some of them really unique, like the “Pupe con i baffi” (dolls with moustache), the holy water fonts and the pumi.
The pumi are those rounded ceramic objects that adorned the balconies and the terraces of the houses in the old district. They are invariably placed in pairs at both ends of the every balcony, no matter if the house is old and shabby or newly restored, simply built or richly decorated.
They are called Pumi, from the Latin name pomum, fruit. Shaped like a bud resting on leaves of acanthus, the Pumo is a symbol of new life and prosperity. It stands against and protects the house from evil, that’s why no family can do without a set of Pumi.
Pumi are handmade in a variety of colors and shapes, depending on the whim of the artist or the commission received by the family that will stick it into the iron spikes built in the balcony railings, or place them in a place of honor at home. In both cases, the Pumi will be proudly handed down to the next generation.
Right at this moment my in laws are enjoying their summer holiday in Salento, the area where Grottaglie is located. I want to dedicate this post to them, in the hope that they will make some time to go and see how these famous ceramics are made.
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