Tucked into the hillside of Monte Samuel Pizzuto, Grottaglie, also known as “the city of ceramics,” has been home to ceramicists for centuries. Surrounded by deep ravines and cool caves, the clayey earth of this charming Northern Puglian town has been worked by human hands since at least the Classical Age (8th-6th Century BC). Later settled by ancient Greeks and Romans, the charming town was put on the map for its ceramic production during the Middle Ages. World-renowned for ceramics today, Grottaglie’s heritage artistry has since been passed down from generation to generation, establishing it as the only trademark DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) of its kind.
When you stroll through the quartiere delle ceramiche, each storefront you pass by has likely been owned and inhabited by the same family line for 100s of years. When you poke your head in, stacks of stunningly simple caposanara, or dinnerware, reach from floor to ceiling and are interspersed with striking hand-sculpted sculptures that are decades, if not centuries, old. Pops of color from bright pumi, painted ceramic rose-hip buds, promise good luck and fortune to those who purchase them. Hung on the walls with great pride you’ll find meticulous and vibrant majolica (enameled platters). If you haven’t already been drawn in for a closer look, startling bianchi, or white wares, will beckon you to see what’s been painted onto their glossy surfaces in hand-mixed coloring.
Cool-clayed walls welcome you in a gentle embrace. The earthy minerality of mud and the oddly intoxicating smell of ceramic paint instantly fill your head. The store’s owner begins to unfurl their family’s history, pointing out unique treasures each with a story of their own from a time long passed. You can see in every piece an element of human imperfection, making them that much more special and whole.
When you walk into Ceramiche Fornaro, you can instantly feel the marriage of artistry and heritage worked into each piece packed into the studio. Ceramic artwork from the shop’s founder, Ciro Fornaro, is sprinkled throughout the store, displaying his refined and modernized techniques. Now owned and operated by his daughters, Giussepina and Pamela, the same passion for their craft and its ancestry can be seen and felt in each hand-sculpted piece on display. This ability to tell the story of their history through a single ceramic piece makes the artisans of Grottaglie so beloved for their craft.
A visit to Grottaglie will change how you experience ceramic wares forever. Each piece you touch, hold, or purchase has been worked carefully and beloved by the hands of the artist themselves, and by those who taught and nurtured their heritage skills as well. It is the sparkle of individuality held within each piece that makes them so beautiful and precious.