The Algarve has a long tradition of manufactoring terracotta tiles made of local white and red clay, that are so typical for the regional architecture until today. They are well known under the name “Santa Catarina” , because the village  Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo, situtated half way between Tavira and São Brás de Alportel is a centre of that handicraft. Thois process begins with the extraction of clay – red and white – that after combined in the right proportion will lead to the raw material that is used in tiles and other products.

During the extraction process is necessary to be careful and to do a good cleaning around the lode of clay so that it is not contaminated with stones, dirt or any other material that may damage the quality of the clay. Then, the red and white clay is transported on trucks for the ceramics and are stored in two separate lots, being mixed only at the time that the paste preparation phase takes place. During the preparation process, the clay needs to attain a desired proportion, earning a consistency similar to plasticine. The paste is left to rest for some time and only then can it be molded in various shapes and sizes. This is the only phase in which machines are used to facilitate the process. From here, the manufacturing process is different, since the tiles, bricks and other decorative pieces are all molded by hand, one by one, giving each piece a unique look. Following this, the drying period can take a week in the summer or more than a month in winter.

This happens because the drying is done naturally at room temperature. At this stage some parts may crack or warp, if there is a large temperature variation. After being dried, the clay is carried into the oven where it is put into the furnace by layers: at the bottom of the furnace we place the brick “tijolo burro” brick, then the tiles with the various shapes and sizes, and finally at the top the smaller pieces and tiles. And then after a few hours of preheating, the tiles are baked slowly in the oven, over more than 30 hours, acquiring a natural hue. After the baking process is finished it is necessary to wait four to five days for the oven to cool down, only then can the pieces be unmolded.

Terracota Tiles of Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo:

Santa Catarina Tiles: