An Andalusian Experience

 

Village of the Master Potters
Made with rich red clay and fired in Moorish kilns, the ceramics of Sorbas are an example of living history.

Potter in Sorbas, AlmeriaIn the Barrio Alfarero, or potters’ quarter of Sorbas, you can see art in the making as before your very eyes a shapeless lump of clay is transformed into a thing of beauty in the hands of a master.

Sorbas, a village teetering dramatically at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Aguas river in Almeria (southern Spain), is the source of especially durable clay and has been famous for its pottery since antiquity. During the 19th century there were two-dozen potteries in the village, exporting their wares throughout the region in the pre-plumbing days when the cantaro – a water jug which is a direct successor of the Roman amphora – was an essential means for carrying and storing water in a many a village. Now, only two families of potters carry on the tradition, but fortunately the craft is undergoing a revival thanks to renewed interest in ceramics and other craft items for decorative purposes.
While his son Jaime carries on the tradition as the latest in a long line of potters, Juan Mañas has retired, or so he claims, after sixty years as an alfarero, but more often than not he can be seen at the potter’s wheel, where he produces ceramic vases with amazing precision. The Mañas shop has a modern new propane-fuelled kiln for firing glazed items, but Juan puts much more faith in the old wood-burning kiln which is of a design unchanged since Moorish days. It is here that the traditional red clay pottery of Sorbas is baked. But first the clay, which the family gather themselves, is painstakingly kneaded, then expertly fashioned on the potter’s wheel. After that it must dry in the shade before being fired at 900 degrees centigrade in the kiln, which can hold up to 500 of the large cantaros, and even more of the smaller items.
Standing at the edge of the Almeria desert atop one of the richest gypsum deposits in Europe, Sorbas is famous for its spectacular karst caves, some of which can be visited on guided tours, and there are interesting excursions to be made along the banks of the Aguas river, but pottery continues to be a powerful draw for visitors. Many items are sold to collectors who travel great distances just to buy these handcrafts at the source. Other items are shipped to shops throughout Andalusia. Even though the traditional cantaro (each one holding two-and-a-half gallons and requiring twelve pounds of clay to make) is no longer the indispensable household item it used to be, it continues to be a best seller, embellishing the living room of many an elegant home with its graceful shape.
Even blemished or damaged items have their use. In an unusual local fiesta, the young folk of the village collect discarded goods from the potters, which are hurled against the houses of particularly unpopular folks on the evening of Ash Wednesday.

CONTACT
Sorbas Tourist Information Office – Calle Terraplen 9, 04270 Sorbas (Almeria), Spain. Tel. 34 950 364478. Fax 34 950 364 001

Nearest airport: Almeria (45 miles, 75 km)

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Copyright © 2000 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little. Photography by J. D. Dallet  - A Freelance Spain production

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Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet