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As in many other places in the world, the presence of pottery in Mallorca has run in parallel with its history. The pottery found in archaeological sites on the island indicates that primitive people already made cooking utensils with an extraordinary sense of shape and aesthetics in the Pretalaiotic period of the Neolithic age.
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Much later, the Romans introduced the use of the potter’s wheel and the amphorae to transport food by sea. The large pointed-base amphorae were placed on metal racks and were filled with wine and honey. Nowadays they decorate many public and private gardens of Mallorca. Pottery reached its pinnacle during the Islamic period with contributions such as the yellow lustre glaze and the use of ceramic materials in house building and the channels of a well-preserved, complex irrigation system. Mallorca was the first place in Europe where the Hispanic-Moorish pottery was developed. It was exported to Sicily and the rest of Italy where it was so successful that it ended up losing its Arab influence in favour of a European aesthetics. It gave raise to the Mayolica pottery. According to the experts Mayolica derives quite possibly from the name Mallorca.
One of the focus of major expansion of pottery in the 16th century was the area of Sa Gerreria (pottery in Catalan) in Palma. Even though the existence of potters in the Middle Ages is already well documented (a Gothic site was found in carrer del Hostal d’en Bauló), the census of 1576 mentions 20 potteries in the network of narrow streets located in the centre of Palma. Nowadays, its houses the Passeig de l’Artesania, a project that aims to preserve Mallorca’s handicraft tradition with shops and workshops where visitors can watch the artisans at work. Another important pottery area was Santa Eugènia, but in the 18th century the artisans moved to the neighbouring towns of Pòrtol and sa Cabaneta in the municipality of Marratxí. The Museu des Fang (pottery museum) in sa Cabaneta and the potteries distributed around the municipality are two further reasons as to why the area is known as the land of clay. The tradition is best reflected in the “Fira des Fang” (pottery fair). The event is held every year, generally in early March, since 1984. It attracts over 100,000 visitors. To understand the important development of pottery in Marratxí one need only take a look at the large red clay deposits outside Pòrtol. Other areas that also specialize in pottery are Alaró, Consell, Felanitx, Manacor and Pollença.
The most typical ceramic piece is the siurell, a handmade figure that is whitewashed and decorated with red and green stripes. A whistle is attached to the bottom of the figure, representing a number of different characters and animals. Due to the symbolic importance that they have in Mallorca, siurells deserve a special chapter in the handicraft tradition of the island. “Terrissa” (terracota in Catalan) is used to make other ceramic objects that are fired in a kiln at a temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius. The most typical items are pots, red-brown plates, wine jars called “pitxers”, painted tiles, nativity scenes and “greixoneres”, a type of casserole that is essential to cook Mallorcan traditional dishes. In the last decades the offer has expanded to include new household and garden items, such as flower pots, dishes, window boxes, candelabras, coffee sets, glasses, pipes, among many other pieces.
The “gerretes” are also of special interest. They are typical pottery from Manacor and above all from Felanitx. “Gerretes” are clay jars that are heavily decorated with painted braids.
There are many ceramic artists in Mallorca who sell their work in their own shops or in those of others and in weekly handicraft markets around the island. The most important market is held in Plaza Major in Palma. A Christmas market with thousands of nativity scene clay figures is also held in the same location every year.
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