The ‘Santa Catarina’ tiles are terracotta and are still handmade in the traditional way by two people. The first tilemaker puts the clay in the frame and creates the tile; the second person then removes the frame and neatens the edges before moving the tile to the drying the trolley. You can see them both working on their respective tasks below, with the drying trolleys behind.
The picture was taken at one of the few remaining tile factories in the east Algarve.
Prior to our recent and fascinating visit to Terracota do Algarve we had presumed that the local tiles called ‘Santa Catarina’ were so named because they were produced by one of the tile factories around Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo using local clay. However the local clay and factory locations are only half the story.
‘Santa Catarina’ tiles are so named because of their unique white finish. It is created by the second tile maker immediately after they have removed the frame. He adds it by dipping his hands into a white clay mix before running his fingers down the tile, creating white stripes on the surface. You can see him doing just that below.
And if you want to see it closer up, here are a few seconds from a video made by Terracota do Algarve which shows what happens in more detail.
Apparently the tile factories introduced this technique so their tiles would have the same high status as tiles made in the far west which were made of white clay. Tiles made of white clay were apparently once more highly regarded than terracotta tiles. However Ângelo who showed us round shared he wasn’t too sure how accurate this story was.
It could easily be one of those myths, such as the one about the Santa Catarina roof tiles once being made on a man’s thigh. Ângelo has placed a roof tile on his thigh and in doing so realised that if thighs were once the mould, then the person had very unusual sized thighs!
Obviously these were not the only photographs I took this morning, but I am going to keep the others for another day as if I go into any more details on tile making in this post I am afraid might lose you! Don’t fret though my follow up post will be out soon as I am keen to share the complete process with you as well as some lovely photographs of the full range of tiles we saw this morning. Here’s one now to tempt you back to my follow up posts!
PS Please note this was a one-off tour that I was able to arrange. If you are interested in going on a tile factory tour then I recommend you contact one of the specialist tour companies, here are details of one. If you are after tiles for your home then do contact Terracota do Algarve they do export!