Yesterday’s town

Manises seems down on its luck. This town, eight kilometres from Valencia, was once a centre of gravity in Spain’s ceramics manufacture.

The old station at Manises, decorated with tiles.

I went there today, and found a town proud to celebrate its history, with a super-helpful Tourist Office. I found a town which like our former home of Laroque, has lost its reason for being. Textiles in Laroque, ceramics in Manises are almost all gone, victims of changing fashions and cheap imports from Asia.

Manises has over seven hundred years of pottery production to boast about. It was an early adopter of an Arabic technique, lustreware, and the wealth of the nearby port city of Valencia ensured a ready stream of buyers. They perfected cobalt blue pottery too, and cornered the market in supplying floor tiles to the elite.

pottery from the 15th century, in  the Ceramics Museum.

They made functional everyday ware too, so weathered all kinds of economic and political ups and downs through the centuries.

By 1932, there were 112 factories in town. Now, no mass production any longer exists. There are small specialist producers. And that’s it.

A plaque illustrating the town in the early 20th century. 

But it’s fun to walk round town, or visit the park. Ceramic plaques tell the town’s story in various ways. There are some great buildings – this is the above-mentioned Tourist Office.

Better than this though is poking round the back streets and seeing the variety of ornamentation on totally ordinary workaday houses.

And just as good, going to a rather good restaurant housed in a former ceramics factory.

Not much seemed to be going on now. I expect everyone is at work at the airport up the road.

PS.  Here is a great blog post describing Manises so very well

16 thoughts on “Yesterday’s town”

    1. It is sad. And it’s so often difficult for them to find a way forward, people leave to find work, and the whole place starts to become a shabby ghost. That hasn’t happened in Manises yet I think, but the signs are there.

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  1. Beautiful artistry and craftsmanship – victims of modernization and a global economy. The consumer benefits from choice and price, but producers need to be on their game. It looks like a beautiful day to be out practicing one’s Espangnol.

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  2. This is quite a sad story, one I know well enough from my own travels and one I have experienced several times in Portugal too. I have tons of pics of ‘artisanal places’ in portug. cities who do tiles on demand – and I’ve never once seen anybody in these places. We had however port. tiles imported for our new kitchen in Devon. Had to wait several weeks for them and they were lovely. Not to mention the joy of seeing them every time I was in the kitchen.
    Same thing happened already in the late 60th & 70th in Switzerland, when only Italian and Portuguese workforce could and would replace or create cobble stones’ lanes and patios. I used to watch them for long moments, how carefully they banged off smallest bits on their stones to make it fit absolutely perfectly in a hole. All this clearly shows that I’m no longer a youngster, I have seen too many things to make me nostalgic!

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    1. It seems we can’t fight change, or force people to buy to keep long-established crafts and industries going. Let’s hope they can in some way continue, and not simply slowly and shabbily die the death.

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  3. That’s really interesting. You are an intrepid explorer. I do like ceramics. We cycled 20 miles today( round trip) to a museum in El Algar which only opens occasionally. It houses an extensive collection of carriages and motor bikes through the ages. Very interesting but no photos allowed.
    The owner also has stables nearby and a fair amount of land. Much of the land is leased by Tesco for growing various varieties of vegetables.

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  4. Looks like a lovely town. Sometimes a town gets a second life as a tourist destination and mass production gets replaced by artist/artisan creators. It can’t sustain as many people as a factory but it might keep a village/town alive instead of becoming a ghost town or everyone having to work somewhere else. Or a craft becomes fashionable and prized again — still not as much production as before but for higher prices. Ceramics is that inbetween thing that can be utilitarian, decorative or artistic so can fit varied home needs. It’s to be hoped anyways. I’d love to visit Manises some day. I like ceramics — loved the pottery festivals when I was in Japan.

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  5. I loved this post when you wrote it but didn’t find time to comment. As other people have said, it’s so poignant to see places that were once so thriving now in sad decline, especially when the things they produced were so beautiful and the industry of their production less damaging to the planet than many others. The beautiful lustreware in red-and-creamy colours is so like the designs of William Morris and William de Morgan.

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    1. Some of the things in the museum were quite lovely, with a strong tradition linking the designs through the centuries. And yes, I’m sure both WMs owed a debt to this kind of work. I hope the local population continues to appreciate its history, and to seek a way forward. There were signs of cracks appearing … in every sense.

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    1. We do. I’m glad that at least the craft potters and small enterprises still exist … for now. They’re your sisters and brothers in celebrating traditional skills and craftsmanship.

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