Unique travel experiences - Learn the history and skills of Romanian pottery artisans

Countless pottery styles have developed over the centuries in Romania due to its rich history and diverse geography. In this article, we will explore the history of pottery in this Balkan region and the aesthetic of these styles. The Neolithic population used clay to create various objects, including cooking vessels, storage jars, and figurines (people, animals, or gods). The clay artworks were constantly adorned with inlaid or painted designs, followed by the firing process in open pits or dedicated kilns.

Being a pottery artisan has been a demanding job for centuries in Romania, requiring strength, skill, and knowledge. More than its practical aspect, it has developed into an art, the artisans preserving and perfecting the ancient techniques of shaping the clay. They passed that knowledge from one generation to the next.  Nowadays, there are five regions where you can have the experience of a pottery workshop, places that you can visit and will offer you a fabulous experience:

romanian pottery artisans

Ceramics of Marginea

Marginea Village is in the northern part of Romania, in the beautiful lands of Bucovina county. That is where the Ceramics of Marginea have their origins.  Marginea became a pottery center somewhere around the 16th century and had about 60 families of potters, mostly men artisans. They knew very well the art of spinning the wheel and burning the clay vessels in the furnace, just like their ancestors did! 

What makes it unique in the world? Marginea is the only place in the world where the color "black" can be obtained without adding anything to the clay paste. Clay, the raw material, is puddled with the feet, then shaped on the wheel and left to dry in the sun for a few days. The vessels are then decorated and left to dry for two more weeks, then are brushed up, polished, and put to burn into the kiln at a temperature of up to 800 degrees. Have a look at the whole process of making Marginea ceramics here.

Horezu Ceramics

Horezu - a region worth visiting, is situated in the southwest part of the country, in Vâlcea County, and is considered one of the most representative places of Romania. Tourists love it for its beautiful nature and traditional crafts, and folklore. Since 2012 Craftmanship of Horezu ceramics has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The artisans use the same techniques and raw materials as hundreds of years ago, following older generations' steps and continuously perfecting the work. Once you get here, you will discover a strong community attached to this art and a community eager to share its crafting knowledge and secrets with visitors.  Pottery artisans generally divide the fabrication processes between men and women. Men extract the earth, clean it, cut it, water it, knead it, and then trample and mix it – transforming it into a clay body from which the potters of Horezu produce red pottery. The women have the mission to decorate the objects. They use specific techniques and tools to draw traditional motifs and cultural tokens. 

Combining the skills of these artisans defines the personality and uniqueness of Horezu ceramics. What makes Horezu unique is the distinctive shades of dark brown, green, red, blue, and 'Horezu ivory.' The artisans use, even to this day, traditional tools: a mixer for cleaning the earth, a wheel and comb for shaping, a hollowed-out horn and a fine wire-tipped stick for decorating, and, finally, a wood-burning stove for firing the objects.

If there is one representative mark of Horezu Ceramics, it is the Horezu rooster. It symbolizes soul resurrection and immortality, light, and power over the forces of darkness. There are many popular Horezu symbols, but each year this beloved figure is proudly celebrated in a festival suggestively named the Horezu Rooster. Horezu Ceramics depicts many old Christian symbols like the cross, the snake, the vine, the spring, and the star. Horezu region is so rich in traditions, legends, and folklore that you won't ever get bored visiting it and knowing it through the eyes and art of the locals. Another significant landmark is The Monastery of Horezu. This architectural masterpiece must also be on your list when visiting the area.

Ceramics of Corund

The handicrafts traditions in Corund go way beyond pottery. In this small village, you'll find entire families mastering various crafts like wood carving, pottery, weaving, or wickerwork. The Corund village is situated in Harghita county, in eastern Transylvania. Famous since the Middle Ages, Corund pottery has a unique look, decorated with beautiful floral motifs and fired twice in the kiln.

The brick kiln is popular even nowadays! It had a significant crafting advantage in ancient technology because it provided a better brick than the primitive sun-dried product. How does the crafting go? Usually, the pottery is put on fire twice. The first firing of the ceramics is the bisque fire, and the second is for glazing them. Bisque pottery is hard and insoluble. Its porosity depends on the type of clay used and how it has burned. The most popular Corund products are those with a cobalt blue or green background or perhaps a white or brown ceramic.

The people of Corund often produced pottery in the shape of discs and routine plates, pots, jars, cups, and bowls glazed with contrasting colors. Perhaps the most prominent type of pottery produced by the Corund people is the magnificent wall plate. These beautiful, delicate potteries, executed with the highest precision, and glazed with bright colors, are ornamental pieces. They can be placed on walls. Want to get your hands on some original Corund plates? Put Harghita on your Romania itinerary!

Maramureș Ceramics

Maramureș County has been a center of art and creativity since ancient times. The locals have always used their imagination and skilled hands to bring to life unique pieces of art using natural elements.  Situated in the most Eastern part of Maramureș, Săcel is the oldest area to create ceramics in the region. Pots, pitchers, decanters, cups, bowls, and plates are all still made using the ancient Dacian method. They are all made with simple, red clay and painted with basic black symbols from ancient times. The decorative objects are shaped by a wheel and garnished with simple motifs, polished with a stone, and left to dry for a long time.

Finally, they are burned in the oven without being glazed, which gives them a recognizable finish. The oven uses a wood fire, so the color of the clay is well preserved. The clay used is kaolin, a fine and dense clay from deep springs.  The final results, as you can see, are quite breathtaking and resemble the old Dacian pottery! That's an excellent reason to put Maramureș on your list when coming to Romania!

Cucuteni Ceramics

The Cucuteni culture takes us back almost 5000 years ago and is probably one of the greatest crafts Romania has. It holds the untold stories of forgotten communities, precisely the Cucuteni-Trypillia civilization, one of the most brilliant civilizations of prehistoric Europe. Advanced kilns (ovens) supported sophisticated pottery decorated with patterns. The ancient artisans used colors like white, red, and black, and lots of zigzag, triangle, diamond, and spiral designs, but also anthropomorphic representations of wildlife. Over time, archaeologists discovered objects that indicated a culture that worshiped mainly goddesses.

Looking at these objects, you can tell they are truly magical as they're made only by hand, without a wheel or other tools. They did use bones or shards to shape the objects, dried them in the shade, and painted and baked them in improvised ovens. The unique aspect of Cucuteni pottery culture is the white painted base of a ceramic object, with a burgundy-red symmetrical design framed by a black line. You can observe the Cucuteni ceramic discoveries by visiting the northeastern part of Romania, Moldavia!

Pottery is proof that tradition is still alive in Romania through its people. 

From the Neolithic period until nowadays, pottery has such a beautiful story to tell. It plays an essential role in Romania's culture and traditions and still is a dynamic and thriving industry today. If you're looking to see these wonders with your own eyes but you don't know how to include them in your Romanian itinerary, Balkan Trails can help you do just that! All our romanian tours can be tailor-made to your exact needs.

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