In real danger of extinction, Bisalhães black clay pottery has been awarded UNESCO immaterial cultural heritage status in the nick of time. Vila Real council, which made the bid for recognition, says the news – coming from Adis Ababa today – will allow it to share “Bisalhães’ ancestral knowledge with the rest of the world”. More importantly, it will create the wherewithal to start training a new generation of Bisalhães potters.
Bisalhães pottery uses a complex process that takes more than a year to complete, explains Lusa news agency.
Right now, there are only five Bisalhães potters left working – and most of these are over 75 years old. Thus the need for quick action.
It’s a craft that is “very demanding”, using techniques that go back to the 16th century and involving the preparation of clay before it is ‘cooked’.
Pieces that emerge from the potters’ wheels are then baked in old ovens ‘opened in the ground’, where gorse, pine needles and broom help create the ‘black’ look.
Bisalhães pottery can be rough and lustreless, but its individuality is what spurred Vila Real into seeking UNESCO’s seal of approval.