The town of Caldas da Rainha, on the Silver Coast of Portugal, is the cradle of one of the most characteristic ceramic styles in Portugal. In the streets and shops, you will find several examples full of colour... and humour!
The shop windows of Caldas da Rainha sometimes get a few laughs and gasps from those who are unaware of the unique ceramic tradition of this charming Silver Coast town.
From the unmistakable forms of phalluses that adorn from mugs to necklaces to the caricatured faces of politicians and other famous people, for the past two centuries potters in Caldas da Rainha have joined tradition and creativity to add a little more colour (and humour!) to their craft.
The "curious" forms of this artistic style are present in the small clay figures present not only in souvenir shops but also in several examples of architecture and urban art where the shapes and themes of Caldas inspired pottery give life to the city's iconic symbols and identity trademarks.
The symbolism of the ceramic tradition of Caldas is so well known around Portugal that when someone says they’re hometown is Caldas da Rainha, usually the recognition of the name is received with a naughty smile!
How Caldas da Rainha revolutionised traditional Portuguese pottery
The origins of this artistic style date back to the beginning of the 19th century, when the region's clay-rich soils were already used in the production of kitchenware of mainly green-copper or brown colour.
The first ceramist to gain national fame was Maria dos Cacos, who was in charge of a very popular pottery workshop that worked between 1820 and 1853. The Cacos workshop would be the "impetus" of the ceramic centre of Caldas.
After 1850, other potters continued to revolutionise the town's ceramic tradition, namely Manuel Cipriano Gomes, also known as Manuel Mafra, and Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro, two of the main figures responsible for the fame that ceramics from Caldas still enjoy to this day.
Design and colours inspired by nature
The ceramic pieces created in Caldas da Rainha by Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro and other ceramists of his time were divided into two types: decorative pieces and kitchenware.
In both cases, these artists innovated by using motifs and colours inspired by nature. The ceramic pieces created represented themes such as cabbage leaves, lettuce, fish, fruit and sausages, standing out at the time for their colour.
This traditional ceramic style is still produced to this day and is generally described as “louça das Caldas”:
Humorous and caricature-inspired ceramics
The other unique artistic movement that changed the face of ceramics from Caldas had a humorous approach, responsible for the phallus motifs and caricaturist themes for which the town is so famous for.
It is believed that the first pottery phallus was created at the request of the Portuguese king D. Carlos I, in the factory of Manuel Mafra. Whatever the true origin, this peculiar piece of pottery was so popular that at the end of the 19th century, at a time of crisis in the ceramic sector, they were indeed the salvation for many small pottery manufacturers in Caldas da Rainha.
Caricature-inspired pottery appeared around the same time, having originally presented stereotypical professions such as priests, fishermen and farmers in a sarcastic manner.
However, the most famous of all caricatures is undoubtedly that of "Zé Povinho", a character created by Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro with the aim of portraying social criticism of the Portuguese people and politics of that time. The agricultural labourer first appeared printed in a newspaper published in 1875, having been republished several other times always with the intention of social critique.
Zé Povinho rapidly became a symbol of the Portuguese people, resigned to corruption and injustice, kneeling under the burden of taxes and ignorant of the greater issues of the country. And yet, defiant, making a rude gesture (known as the "Toma!") by bending one arm up and putting the hand of the other arm in the crock of the elbow (the Portuguese version of “up yours!”).
It was only from the last quarter of the 19th century that the caricature took on a three-dimensional shape, becoming extremely popular thanks to the pottery figures manufactured at Fábrica de Faianças das Caldas da Rainha.
Local pottery artisans also like to portray figures who represent contemporary politicians or celebrities.
Places to visit
To find out more about Caldas' rich ceramic heritage, we suggest a visit to the following sites:
Museu Bordallo Pinheiro - Lisbon
In the Bordallo Pinheiro Museum, in Lisbon, you will find the most important collection of Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro pottery, mostly unique or serial pieces from the Fábrica de Faianças das Caldas da Rainha, founded in 1884.
Other Caldas ceramic artists are also represented, such as Maria dos Cacos, Manuel Mafra, and Manuel Gustavo Bordallo Pinheiro, son of Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro. The collection consists of about 1000 pieces.
Tuesday to Friday: 11:00 to 17:00
Saturdays and Sundays: 10:00 to 12:00
Closed to the public on Mondays and on the holidays: 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.
Museu Bordallo Pinheiro - Campo Grande, 382 - 1700-097 Lisboa
Tel.: (+351) 215 818 540
Museu da Cerâmica - Caldas da Rainha
Located in the historical centre of Caldas da Rainha, near the old Bordallo Pinheiro factory, the Ceramics Museum houses a permanent exhibition and a secondary building where you'll find the Temporary Exhibition Room, the Shop, Pottery and Documentation Centre.
The Museum has several collections representing the production of Caldas da Rainha and other ceramic centres in Portugal and abroad. The collections include pieces of Caldense ceramics from the 17th to the first half of the 20th century. The works of Maria dos Cacos, Manuel Mafra and especially Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro are of note, having one of the most collections of the great master of Caldense ceramics.
Tuesday to Sunday: October to June 10:00 - 12:30 | 14:00 - 17:30; July to September 10:00 - 12:30 | 14:00 - 18:00
Closed to the public on Mondays and on the holidays: 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 and 15 May and 25 December.
Museu da Cerâmica - Rua Dr. Ilídio Amado - Ap. 97 - 2504-910 Caldas da Rainha
Tel.: (+351) 262 840 280
Rota Bordaliana - Caldas da Rainha
If you prefer the outdoors, Rota Bordaliana in Caldas da Rainha offers two pedestrian routes that allow you to see 18 ceramic figures, all built on a human scale, that are a tribute to Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro and the town's ceramic tradition:
The long route takes approximately 2 hours, starting at Largo da Estação, and includes several tourist points related to the artist, namely buildings with panels and tile façades. The tour ends at the Casa Museum and the Bordallo Pinheiro Factory.
The short route takes approximately 1 hour, where only large-scale ceramic pieces are seen. The tour also ends at the Casa Museum and the Bordallo Pinheiro Factory.
To help you guide your way, you can install the Caldas da Rainha CityGuide App on your mobile phone to tour the city.
Shop and Bordallo Pinheiro Factory - Caldas da Rainha
Traditional ceramics from Caldas da Rainha can be bought online or in several pottery shops throughout Portugal.
However, if you are in the Silver Coast or visiting Caldas da Rainha we suggest visiting the Faianças Artísticas Bordallo Pinheiro shop and factory:
Bordallo Pinheiro - Rua Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro, 53 - 2500-246 Caldas da Rainha
Tel. (+351) 262 839 380
If you pass by Caldas da Rainha, seize the opportunity to know more about this rich artistic heritage, which extends throughout the Silver Coast of Portugal.
Find out more about the Silver Coast of Portugal
Located in the heart of Portugal, the Silver Coast offers plenty to see and do. From breathtakingly beautiful beaches to medieval castles...