Alentejo handicraft is the perfect souvenir to take home when you visit Evora. To decorate your own house or to surprise a loved one with a gift. Any piece you buy of Alentejo crafts will let you remember what you saw and feel when you were here.
Like with any other types of handicraft, in Alentejo trades were passed from generation to generation until today. These are very pure traditions which are usually related to the contemporary manual construction of day-to-day ancient objects.
To buy Alentejo handicraft as a souvenir to remember the city, it is quite easy because there are local shops in Evora exclusively dedicated to show the way people used to live in Alentejo a few decades ago.
The trades of Alentejo handicraft
Although there are crafts in Alentejo which are common in the whole region, the different trades are specific of certain villages or areas.
Pottery and Painting
There are many places where pottery as handicraft is significantly present throughout Alentejo. But we find a few distinctive large pottery centres.
- Flor da Rosa – There is a pottery school which teaches how to do, among others, utility pieces that really place us in the village of Crato (casserole, canteen, lidded pan, terracotta casserole, oval roaster, basin/bowl, cauldron, camping/portable stove, one-wing pot, two-wing pot, water pitcher, barrel,…)
- Nisa – The pottery house Olaria Pedrada de Nisa is unique in Alentejo due to this red clay handicraft decorated with a design of inlay small quartz rocks from Serra de S. Miguel.
- Estremoz – The strong point of the historical city of Estremoz is what we call Barrística in Portugal (clay production), the highlights being the niche saints and the nativity plays with religious and profane figures. There are also other traditional pieces such as whistles, “nightingales”, hooks for knitting, “Napoleões” (napoleons, soldiers with uniforms from the times of the French invasions), “primaveras” (“Springs”, clay women dressed as dancers), “pretos” (black people, wearing red skirts) and a figure of a blindfolded women symbolising “Love is blind”.
As for what more utilitarian and decorative pottery is concerned, there are many villages where potters dedicate themselves to moulding clay. But the main ones are in Viana do Alentejo, Redondo and S. Pedro do Corval. This last one, close to the beautiful medieval village of Monsaraz, is the largest pottery centre in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal + Spain).
Potteries in Alentejo are usually open to the public. Visit one, or a few, to get to know how a clay piece is created and follow the whole process from the moulding through the cooking to the final decoration.
From the times when the work on the fields was done with animal help and when there were no synthetic products. Among some of the objects which are now considered leather crafts in Alentejo we have harnesses, saddles, bags, boots and shoes, day-to-day and hunting clothes, padded slippers.
The most important leather processing factories of these pieces of Alentejo handicraft are located in Terrugem and Nossa Senhora de Machede. A visit to one of them lets us know how leather objects are produced by hand, although machines help a bit nowadays. If you prefer to know smaller artisans, visit Alter do Chão and Alcácer do Sal (saddle making) or Cuba and Almodôvar (shoes).
Carpets, blankets and tapestry
Blankets from Alentejo are very famous in Portugal. These are made in looms with white and black woollen yarn and once kept people warm in the cold winters. Nowadays, most people use them to decorate walls, beds or even the floor.
These quilts, or blankets, are one of the most notorious pieces of crafts in Alentejo, especially the traditional pieces. However, today the same techniques are also used with other materials (such as cotton) to make drapes, the renowned “capotes alentejanos” (Alentejo cloaks), ponchos, bags, pillows, travel blankets, socks, towels, etc…
Reguengos de Monsaraz and Mertola are some of the locations where tapestry in Alentejo is still being made by artisans. This, of course, without mentioning Arraiolos.
The famous Arraiolos Carpets exist since the 15th century, when the Moorish families were expelled from Lisbon and came to this village in Alentejo. Like in the old times, still today we see lady embroiderers outside their front door producing items using the traditional Arraiolos stitch.
Visit Arraiolos throughout the year to see the embroiderers and the carpet shops. But come especially in June to be part of the “O Tapete está na Rua” event (The Carpet is Out on the Street) to get to know this village traditions, watch exhibitions, go up the original circular castle, wander around the narrow streets and enter the churches. Don’t forget to also taste the unique pastéis de toucinho (lard pastries).
This type of tapestry is completely different from what is made in the rest of Alentejo. It is mural decorative and follows a particular technique known as Portalegre Stitch, full of details and allowing to reproduce the drawing with total reliability. For that reason, it was used to replicate the paintings of Almada Negreiros, Vieira da Silva or Vítor Pomar.
Get acquainted with the history of this important representative of Alentejo crafts in Guy Fino Museum, in the Castel-Branco Palace in Portalegre.
Portugal is the biggest producer of cork in the world. Most of it comes from cork oaks and holm oaks in Alentejo. No wonder there are so many objects in Alentejo handicraft made of this material. From cork we make figures representing the kind of work people used to do in the countryside in the old days, the “tarros” to carry the food to the fields, the typical cork “cochos” (to drink water from).
Nowadays, apart from the tradicional, you can also find all types of pieces made of cork produced in series and not by artisans. But these still represent the heritage of what is profoundly from Alentejo. In some souvenir shops in Evorathere are cork pieces such as umbrellas, Christmas cribs, bags, hand-held fans, necklaces and bracelets, keychains and even shoes. Why don’t you stop by?
The typical furniture from Alentejo is painted with enamel paint and the prime colours are white, blue, green or red. It is decorated with pictures of flowers and colourful bows. All these pieces of furniture are very beautiful. However, a few really stand out: beds, desks, chairs with straw seats, wardrobes, bedside tables, mirrors and arks.
Traditional Alentejo Clothes
A few decades ago, those who watched over cattle on the fields needed to get warm in the winter. For that, they wore the tradicional Alentejo cloak, “peliça”, “samarra” and “safões”, usually made of sheepskin. In Evora, you can still find some of these typical clothes, especially the cloaks, called “capotes alentejanos” in Portuguese.
More handicraft and other trades in Alentejo
No less important than the handicrafts mentioned above, a few other types of craftwork can be pointed out.
- Tiles (Evora)
- Gourds (Evora)
- Ceramic pieces (Evora)
- Cutlery (Azaruja)
- Horn pieces (Nossa Senhora de Machede)
- Cowbells (Alcáçovas)
- Furniture and decorative objects in wrought iron (Campo Maior and Ferreira do Alentejo)
- Wickerwork (throughout Alentejo)
Alentejo handicraft today
Alentejo values its origins and traditions in its craftwork but also appreciates change and what is modern. Nowadays, there are many craftsmen and craftswomen belonging to a new generation who innovates and wins prizes in Portugal and worldwide.
An example of the “young” artisans in Alentejo is Tiago Cabeça and his “Oficina da Terra”, with stunning and fun pieces in terracotta. His success has been such that he created, near Arraiolos, “Aldeia da Terra” (Village of the Land/Soil), “The most ridiculous small village in Portugal”. This fabulous sculpture garden has immense details and a beautiful view over Arraiolos castle.
The project consists of thousands of small terracotta sculptures spread outdoors across 0.74 ac (3000 m²), half the dimensions of a football/soccer field. There are new pieces every day, which you will be able to see getting shaped or even get your hands dirty and produce contemporary Alentejo crafts. Don’t forget to take the children and visit the “village”, open everyday.
Throughout the year, there are many handicraft fairs in Alentejo for you to visit and buy a souvenir. Get information about them on tourism offices of villages and towns, starting with the one in Evora.