Up until the beginning of the industrialization of Greece, which essentially took place in Greece after WWII, the eastern Mediterranean was full of villages and towns that were renowned for their traditional pottery and ceramics making. Some of these towns catered only to the surrounding areas, while others became famous far beyond their local communities.
For the residents of Mantamados, ceramics and pottery making have always been one of their traditional activities. The vast number of abandoned kilns that still exist in the district, primarily in its coastal areas, gives us an idea of the tremendous significance that this craft had for the local economy: Pedi, Aspropotamos, Koulostasi, Agios Stefanos, Kalafatis, Myriantri, Kamila, Palios, Anihtos, and above all Mantamados, all used to be significant centers of production, judging by the number of stone kilns that still exist there. In Mantamadou alone, there were at least 20 medium-size workshops, while along the coast there were approximately 44, of which only a few survive today.
References to the pottery workshops as “koumaradika” from the mid 19th Century highlight the significance of this craft for the area in the last hundred years. Although the local craftsmen used to create a wide variety of decorative and useful objects, their most popular product was always the “koumari”, which was used to store and cool table water. The word koumari most probably traces its roots to the Latin word “cucuma”, that means “water container”. The “lagyno” was a specialized, high-quality product that local craftsmen produced and was always in demand throughout the region, the island and the Aegean.
Although there is no concrete evidence regarding the beginnings of ceramic and pottery production in the area, the residents of Mantamados have always considered this an “ancient” craft. Most of the local craftsmen claim that the old stone kilns in the area date back to 1800, and records show that already by the mid-19th Century the production and sale of ceramic goods made a significant contribution to the local economy. Production was already far in excess of local needs, and was obviously exported to other areas of the island and beyond.
In 1846, the “tsoukalades” (pottery makers’) association of Mantamados commissioned the painting of a holy icon depicting the birth of Agios Ioannis Prodromos (St. John Prodromos), which was offered to the Church of Agios Vasilios (St. Basil).
In 1865, the German traveler A. Conze contemplated in his journal as to whether there was a direct connection between ancient Greek pottery making and the multitude of ceramics’ makers in the area.
This association is mentioned again in a document dating back to 1908, when the community’s authorities decided to forbid the tsoukalades and all the other business people in the area from opening their shops on Sunday, as per a directive that had been issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople
As late as the 1980s, there were 9 local potters working in the area’s traditional ceramics’ workshops. They still produced their classic designs in a variety of sizes destined primarily for the tourism industry, albeit in much smaller quantities than before.
The newfound popularity of traditional crafts and art forms has been a boon for the traditional craftsmen in the area, as well as for their young apprentices that have incorporated new techniques and equipment in their workshops, as they try to keep up with increased demand from an ever growing client base. New baking techniques and fire-resistant paints are now used in their production of household and decorative items that are sold throughout Greece, while the most popular designs now follow the trends of the day.
The primary objective of the local potters of Mantamados is to keep alive an island tradition that’s at least two centuries old, maintain the historic character of their community, while making it famous for top quality products throughout Greece and abroad. A significant step towards this direction has already been taken by the local craftsmen, which have succeeded in having the district of Agios Stefanos declared a protected historical community, thereby securing the preservation of the antique kilns and workshops throughout the area.
Another step in the right direction has been the Pan-Lesvian Ceramics Exhibition that has been held in the Mantamados Community Center for the past decade, and attracts thousands of visitors to the area ever year.
The exhibition traditionally opens on the last weekend in July, and closes on August 31st.
Municipal Unit of Mantamados