The Dark Pottery at Marginea


A fist size piece of clay is laid on the spinning wheel. Wet hand starts to work on the irregular shape. First, it gains height. Then, curves and lines are carefully molded. Palms cover it, gently moving up and down. The foot stops pedaling and the wheel is spinning slower and slower. The hands retreat and we can now see the vase they were holding. The clay we saw earlier is no loner recognized. It turned into an almost perfect pot. And it only took a couple of minutes. But it’s not done yet. It must follow the usual path, up on the shelf, next to the other vases, waiting to dry up and to go into the oven. Then it will take its place somewhere in a corner in the handicraft shops, waiting for someone to buy it and become either an useful kitchen item, a souvenir from Bucovina or a pleasant memory.

The sign on the side of the road reads Marginea. Under it, a large black vase tells us this is not just another village. Our ancestors, The Geto-Dacians, excelled in making dark pottery. The craft flourished in the Neolithic, due to the constant need to store food. Much later, between the 12th and 15th centuries, the craft develops in Northern Moldavia. That is when the Marginea workshops became the best known in the country. They used the same ancient technique. After being molded and well dried, the clay would be inserted into special ovens, usually built in the ground. At first, they burned normally, until turning red. But then, the fire was suppressed and they would cool off while being penetrated by the dense smoke. This is how the Marginea pottery gets its dark coloring. Depending on a series of factors regarding the fire, there are various shades of gray.

In the center of the village we find a pottery workshop. It is open for tourists to come and see for themselves how the clay takes shape. There’s quite a fuzz inside. A craftsman is spinning the wheel and creating vase after vase. Another is working on a bigger pot, decorating it with handles and floral motifs. An apprentice is running around, supplying them with freshly knead clay. The pottery is exposed in several shops in the open complex. Between them lies a small museum of the Bucovina handicrafts. An old lady, dressed in the traditional port is standing on the porch. All sorts of handmade items, from complex and lively colored fabrics, to the well known painted eggs and dark pottery can be admired up close and can also be bought.

These days, Marginea is the only place in Europe where this special kind of pottery is still made. There are only a bunch of craftsmen left and they are pretty old. One of the still remaining workshops managed to train more than ten apprentices, all young men. Hopefully, they will pass on the tradition and secrets of this fine ancient art of dark pottery.


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