Ceramic shops on the Amalfi Coast are a riot of colour, synthesising the glorious blues, turquoises and yellows of the sea and sun outside into vases, plates, tiles and tabletops. Each shop is a little museum, displaying the unique handcrafts of that particular town and even factory. Colours and designs vary between each area of production, and each object is handmade and hand painted resulting in delightful quirks and artistic signatures.
The local earth of the Amalfi Coast is rich in clay, limestone and volcanic substances, lending it to ceramic production. These goods have been produced in this area since the 15th century, now becoming very popular as a way to bring back a little of the brilliance of the Costiera Amalfitana after the holiday is over. The main area of activity is Vietri sul Mare, home to a magnificent factory and a ceramic museum. But shops, showrooms and arbitrary tiles embedded into walls can be found throughout the towns of the Coast. If you wander up the Ancient Staircases in Amalfi you can find several tiles used to announce the house numbers or direct visitors.
Down by the sea there are wonderful tile murals depicting idyllic panoramas of sunshine, sea and sand. One depicts what was once daily life in these coastal fishing towns. John Steinbeck famously introduced Positano to the world, but the Positano he experienced, like Amalfi, was one of a life dependant upon fishing. In the mural we see the boats coming into the harbour and their catch being collected, a rare sight now. We can then follow the fish being brought home to be cleaned and cooked, and finally, in the foreground, two hungry fisherman, one clasping a large carafe of wine, turning eagerly to see their meal approaching. We can also see a couple of people mending the fishing nets.
Positano’s shops, now so popular with tourists, offer interior design ideas, with variously sized and intricately decorated plates positioned aesthetically on the walls outside. Colourful tiles lend splashes of colour to the streets, from plant pots and shop advertisement.
Styles and Designs
While varying between each factory, Amalfi Coast ceramics are characterised by their bold, simple designs and sunny colours. One particularly striking colour combination is a copper green (verde ramino) with a lemon yellow, suggestive of the lemon groves found on the surrounding hillside.
As well as abstract designs on tiles, most produce groups of tiles that are intended to be placed together to form iconic views of Positano, Amalfi and other towns. The scene is often framed by a bunch of lemons or the characteristic Bougainvillea flowers.
Lemons, of course, feature extensively particularly on crockery. Some crockery is intended to be decorative, as understood from the intricate patterns that would be concealed if used for plating food, but some of the simpler designs lend themselves to being a statement fruit bowl or after dinner limoncello cups! Other common symbols are fish, baroque flourishes and flowers such as daisies and sunflowers. But the symbols and the styles, and even the colours, vary with each factory. Some of the most famous ceramic producers in Vietri sul Mare now have signature designs which are recognised across the world.
If you’re looking for more history and technical details the best and only place to go is the Museum of Ceramics. This can be found in the locality of Raito near Vietri sul Mare. It was created in a tower in the garden of the Villa Guariglia (info 089.211835).
But by far the most unusual and striking ceramic construction in the area is the Ceramica Artistica Solimene, a modern gargantuan clad in multi-colored circular tiles. The curvaceous, iconic design is reminiscent of a Peggy Guggeheim museum, and indeed the architect, Paolo Solari, studied briefly under the Frank Lloyd Wright in America. Within you can visit a showroom displaying and selling the characteristic Solimene ceramics. Not only are they aesthetically delightful but by combining traditional and modern ceramic techniques they have also rendered their products dishwasher proof!
Ceramic making classes are also available.
While the ceramics might blend into their vivid aquatic surroundings while still in their hometown, when transported to less striking surroundings they seem to emanate the scintillating warmth of the Amalfi Coast through their copper greens, turquoises and lemon yellow.
Recommendations of Ceramic Shops, Amalfi Coast:
Amalfi: Il Ninfeo
Ravello: Ceramiche D’Arte Carmela
Positano: Ceramiche Casola
Remember most shops ship world-wide if you’re nervous about taking those precious ceramics in your suitcase!