Welcome to the ceramics capital of Southeast Italy: Grottaglie. Explore, shop, eat and be merry.
Grottaglie got it’s name from large grottoes nearby that were used as a refuge during the Saracen raids. Today, it is the ceramics capital of Puglia. What makes the Grottaglie ceramics so unique is that they are made from locally extracted clay. From the medieval times to today, the town’s potters continue to produce plates, vases and pots in enormous quantities. Our hosts from Trullo a ll’éra were locals born and raised in Grottaglie, so the place came highly recommended and came with one of the best restaurant recommendations from my Puglia road trip to date.
Where to Stay Near Grottaglie?
What Are The Ceramics Used For?
A lot of the ceramic pieces portray symbols of fauna, floral, landscape and figurative range. The main colors used throughout are manganese brown, ochre, blue and yellowish-green. Back in the day the ceramic pots were used as household items to conserve food and to be used simply as ornaments and decorations. Today, they carry the same functions.
Types of Pottery and the Pumo
There are 2 types of distinct pottery traditions made and used in Grottaglie. The first is caposanara, focused on making kitchen utensils and everyday utilitarian objects, the second is faenzara, which is more decorative for the home. The most famous decorative object, which can be found all around in Puglia outside and inside of people’s homes is the pumo. The pumo is an elegant single color glazed cone with feathers, to me it looks more like a pinecone then feathers, but leave it up to interpretation. The pumo, also pictured above from our bedside table at Trullo a ll’éra, is said to bring good luck, which is why almost every home has one.
Il Quartiere delle Ceramiche, Grottaglie’s Ceramics Quarter
Grottaglie has an entire quarter where artisans will let you into their workshops to watch while they create new pieces. Some of the artisans here are even “Master Potters” from Grottaglie’s Art College. And believe me, watching them at work is a treat. Local potters still use the wheel invented by the Greeks. The only change was that they traded foot pedals for an electric motor to help spin the wheel faster.
It Doesn’t Stop at Ceramics, Light It Up!
My favorite type of ceramic art piece though had to be the lights. Wandering around Grottaglie at night has its benefits, as you can see pictured above. At night, every time you step into a store, it’s filled with light coming from sconces, pumos, lamps and pendants projecting fascinating shapes on the walls and ceiling. My favorite were the demos the potters would should you. See the video above for an example. The gradient light switch changed the shape and lighting design almost like an optical illusion. What a piece of art. I so badly wanted to take one home with me!
Like My Shoes? Buy Them From My Favorite Italian Artisan Shoemaker: Rose’s Roses
Beyond the Studios There is Wall and Street Art
If you’re able to pry yourself away from the studios, take the time to walk through the intricate mesh of twisting, narrow alleys. The streets re filled with wall art, something that isn’t as common to be seen in the historical center of Italy. This art is not graffiti or vandalism, it’s internationally renowned street art. Even the children get involved and paint the walls outside friends houses, as pictured above on the right. The Fame Festival was an annual event where street artists come and paint the town red, as one would say. The festival is called fame because of the 15 minutes of fame you get and because in Italian the word translates to fame, or hunger. Speaking of hunger…
As I walked through the alleys, through beaded curtains I could see people seated at tables or setting place for dinner. The streets were deserted. Everyone was indoors and the smell of cooking was everywhere. That’s when I realized how hungry I was. It was dinner time and the hunger set in.
The artwork playfully engaged with the camber of the alleyway and the height of the walls.
Eat Dinner at Osteria La Capasa
My mother and I had made a reservation at Osteria La Capasa, a recommendation from our local hosts at Trullo a ll’éra. On this night, which was our last night in Puglia, we ate at what I thought was my best meal in all of Puglia. What a way to conclude our trip! Traditional cooking, technique and foods and grains are used in every dish in order to bring the history and patrimony of the Grottaglie culinary field to life. The Osteria is called “La Capasa,” a historical and typical Grottaglie ceramic vase or container that used to be used to conserve artisanal foods and drinks. La Capasa has strong tie to the artisanship in the Italian culinary world.
I ordered orecchiette pasta with horse meat–I know another exotic choice. The other night I had ordered donkey from another Trullo a ll’éra restaurant recommendation at Osteria da Giuseppe in Ceglie Messapica–also delicious. The orecchiette and sauce at Osteria La Capasa were made fresh in house by the mamma that very morning. Fun fact: Orecchiette were “invented” in Puglia, so they’re a must have when visiting.
For desert, we had chocolate balls filled with liquor and coffee, of course handmade by the mamma (amazing!). As a digestivo, they offered us their homemade bay leaf grappa which cures all ailments, heck, even covid can’t stand up to the power of the bay leaf grappa made from scratch with love by the owner’s mamma! We left Grottaglie, happy and satiated and concluded our last night in Puglia on a good and delicious note.
>> Next: Visit Locorotondo in an Afternoon: What to Do
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